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´╗┐Title: La vie des abeilles. English - The Life of the Bee
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice, 1862-1949
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Maurice Maeterlinck

Translated By Alfred Sutro



_Published May, 1901_













IT is not my intention to write a treatise on apiculture, or on
practical bee-keeping. Excellent works of the kind abound in all
civilised countries, and it were useless to attempt another. France
has those of Dadant, Georges de Layens and Bonnier, Bertrand, Hamet,
Weber, Clement, the Abbe Collin, etc. English-speaking countries
have Langstroth, Bevan, Cook, Cheshire, Cowan, Root, etc. Germany
has Dzierzon, Van Berlespoch, Pollmann, Vogel, and many others.

Nor is this book to be a scientific monograph on Apis Mellifica,
Ligustica, Fasciata, Dorsata, etc., or a collection of new
observations and studies. I shall say scarcely anything that those
will not know who are somewhat familiar with bees. The notes and
experiments I have made during my twenty years of beekeeping I shall
reserve for a more technical work; for their interest is necessarily
of a special and limited nature, and I am anxious not to over-burden
this essay. I wish to speak of the bees very simply, as one speaks
of a subject one knows and loves to those who know it not. I do not
intend to adorn the truth, or merit the just reproach Reaumur
addressed to his predecessors in the study of our honey-flies, whom
he accused of substituting for the marvellous reality marvels that
were imaginary and merely plausible. The fact that the hive contains
so much that is wonderful does not warrant our seeking to add to its
wonders. Besides, I myself have now for a long time ceased to look
for anything more beautiful in this world, or more interesting, than
the truth; or at least than the effort one is able to make towards
the truth. I shall state nothing, therefore, that I have not
verified myself, or that is not so fully accepted in the text-books
as to render further verification superfluous. My facts shall be as
accurate as though they appeared in a practical manual or scientific
monograph, but I shall relate them in a somewhat livelier fashion
than such works would allow, shall group them more harmoniously
together, and blend them with freer and more mature reflections. The
reader of this book will not learn therefrom how to manage a hive;
but he will know more or less all that can with any certainty be
known of the curious, profound, and intimate side of its
inhabitants. Nor will this be at the cost of what still remains to
be learned. I shall pass over in silence the hoary traditions that,
in the country and many a book, still constitute the legend of the
hive. Whenever there be doubt, disagreement, hypothesis, when I
arrive at the unknown, I shall declare it loyally; you will find
that we often shall halt before the unknown. Beyond the appreciable
facts of their life we know but little of the bees. And the closer
our acquaintance becomes, the nearer is our ignorance brought to us
of the depths of their real existence; but such ignorance is better
than the other kind, which is unconscious, and satisfied.

Does an analogous work on the bee exist? I believe I have read
almost all that has been written on bees; but of kindred matter I
know only Michelet's chapter at the end of his book "The Insect,"
and Ludwig Buchner's essay in his "Mind in Animals." Michelet merely
hovers on the fringe of his subject; Buchner's treatise is
comprehensive enough, but contains so many hazardous statements, so
much long-discarded gossip and hearsay, that I suspect him of never
having left his library, never having set forth himself to question
his heroines, or opened one of the many hundreds of rustling,
wing-lit hives which we must profane before our instinct can be
attuned to their secret, before we can perceive the spirit and
atmosphere, perfume and mystery, of these virgin daughters of toil.
The book smells not of the bee, or its honey; and has the defects of
many a learned work, whose conclusions often are preconceived, and
whose scientific attainment is composed of a vast array of doubtful
anecdotes collected on every side. But in this essay of mine we
rarely shall meet each other; for our starting-point, our aim, and
our point of view are all very different.


The bibliography of the bee (we will begin with the books so as to
get rid of them as soon as we can and go to the source of the books)
is very extensive. From the beginning this strange little creature,
that lived in a society under complicated laws and executed
prodigious labours in the darkness, attracted the notice of men.
Aristotle, Cato, Varro, Pliny, Columella, Palladius all studied the
bees; to say nothing of Aristomachus, who, according to Cicero,
watched them for fifty-eight years, and of Phyliscus, whose writings
are lost. But these dealt rather with the legend of the bee; and all
that we can gather therefrom--which indeed is exceedingly little--we
may find condensed in the fourth book of Virgil's Georgics.

The real history of the bee begins in the seventeenth century, with
the discoveries of the great Dutch savant Swammerdam. It is well,
however, to add this detail, but little known: before Swammerdam a
Flemish naturalist named Clutius had arrived at certain important
truths, such as the sole maternity of the queen and her possession
of the attributes of both sexes, but he had left these unproved.
Swammerdam founded the true methods of scientific investigation; he
invented the microscope, contrived injections to ward off decay, was
the first to dissect the bees, and by the discovery of the ovaries
and the oviduct definitely fixed the sex of the queen, hitherto
looked upon as a king, and threw the whole political scheme of the
hive into most unexpected light by basing it upon maternity. Finally
he produced woodcuts and engravings so perfect that to this day they
serve to illustrate many books on apiculture. He lived in the
turbulent, restless Amsterdam of those days, regretting "Het Zoete
Buiten Leve "--The Sweet Life of the Country--and died, worn-out
with work, at the age of forty-three. He wrote in a pious, formal
style, with beautiful, simple outbursts of a faith that, fearful of
falling away, ascribed all things to the glory of the Creator; and
embodied his observations and studies in his great work "Bybel der
Natuure," which the doctor Boerhave, a century later, caused to be
translated from the Dutch into Latin under the title of "Biblia
Naturae." (Leyden, 1737.)

Then came Reaumur, who, pursuing similar methods, made a vast number
of curious experiments and researches in his gardens at Charenton,
and devoted to the bees an entire volume of his "Notes to Serve for
a History of Insects." One may read it with profit to-day, and
without fatigue. It is clear, direct, and sincere, and possessed of
a certain hard, arid charm of its own. He sought especially the
destruction of ancient errors; he himself was responsible for
several new ones; he partially understood the formation of swarms
and the political establishment of queens; in a word, he discovered
many difficult truths, and paved the way for the discovery of more.
He fully appreciated the marvellous architecture of the hive; and
what he said on the subject has never been better said. It is to
him, too, that we owe the idea of the glass hives, which, having
since been perfected, enable us to follow the entire private life of
these fierce insects, whose work, begun in the dazzling sunshine,
receives its crown in the darkness. To be comprehensive, one should
mention also the somewhat subsequent works and investigations of
Charles Bonnet and Schirach (who solved the enigma of the royal
egg); but I will keep to the broad lines, and pass at once to
Francois Huber, the master and classic of contemporary apiarian

Huber was born in Geneva in 1750, and fell blind in his earliest
youth. The experiments of Reaumur interested him; he sought to
verify them, and soon becoming passionately absorbed in these
researches, eventually, with the assistance of an intelligent and
faithful servant, Francois Burnens, devoted his entire life to the
study of the bee. In the annals of human suffering and human triumph
there is nothing more touching, no lesson more admirable, than the
story of this patient collaboration, wherein the one who saw only
with immaterial light guided with his spirit the eyes and hands of
the other who had the real earthly vision; where he who, as we are
assured, had never with his own eyes beheld a comb of honey, was yet
able, notwithstanding the veil on his dead eyes that rendered double
the veil in which nature enwraps all things, to penetrate the
profound secrets of the genius that had made this invisible comb; as
though to teach us that no condition in life can warrant our
abandoning our desire and search for the truth. I will not enumerate
all that apiarian science owes to Huber; to state what it does not
owe were the briefer task. His "New Observations on Bees," of which
the first volume was written in 1789, in the form of letters to
Charles Bonnet, the second not appearing till twenty years later,
have remained the unfailing, abundant treasure into which every
subsequent writer has dipped. And though a few mistakes may be found
therein, a few incomplete truths; though since his time considerable
additions have been made to the micrography and practical culture of
bees, the handling of queens, etc., there is not a single one of his
principal statements that has been disproved, or discovered in
error; and in our actual experience they stand untouched, and indeed
at its very foundation.


Some years of silence followed these revelations; but soon a German
clergyman, Dzierzon, discovered parthenogenesis, _i. e._ the
virginal parturition of queens, and contrived the first hive with
movable combs, thereby enabling the bee-keeper henceforth to take
his share of the harvest of honey, without being forced to destroy
his best colonies and in one instant annihilate the work of an
entire year. This hive, still very imperfect, received masterly
improvement at the hands of Langstroth, who invented the movable
frame properly so called, which has been adopted in America with
extraordinary success. Root, Quinby, Dadant, Cheshire, De Layens,
Cowan, Heddon, Howard, etc., added still further and precious
improvement. Then it occurred to Mehring that if bees were supplied
with combs that had an artificial waxen foundation, they would be
spared the labour of fashioning the wax and constructing the cells,
which costs them much honey and the best part of their time; he
found that the bees accepted these combs most readily, and adapted
them to their requirements.

Major de Hruschka invented the Honey-Extractor, which enables the
honey to be withdrawn by centrifugal force without breaking the
combs, etc. And thus, in a few years, the methods of apiculture
underwent a radical change. The capacity and fruitfulness of the
hives were trebled. Great and productive apiaries arose on every
side. An end was put to the useless destruction of the most
industrious cities, and to the odious selection of the least fit
which was its result. Man truly became the master of the bees,
although furtively, and without their knowledge; directing all
things without giving an order, receiving obedience but not
recognition. For the destiny once imposed by the seasons he has
substituted his will. He repairs the injustice of the year, unites
hostile republics, and equalises wealth. He restricts or augments
the births, regulates the fecundity of the queen, dethrones her and
instals another in her place, after dexterously obtaining the
reluctant consent of a people who would be maddened at the mere
suspicion of an inconceivable intervention. When he thinks fit, he
will peacefully violate the secret of the sacred chambers, and the
elaborate, tortuous policy of the palace. He will five or six times
in succession deprive the bees of the fruit of their labour, without
harming them, without their becoming discouraged or even
impoverished. He proportions the store-houses and granaries of their
dwellings to the harvest of flowers that the spring is spreading
over the dip of the hills. He compels them to reduce the extravagant
number of lovers who await the birth of the royal princesses. In a
word he does with them what he will, he obtains what he will,
provided always that what he seeks be in accordance with their laws
and their virtues; for beyond all the desires of this strange god
who has taken possession of them, who is too vast to be seen and too
alien to be understood, their eyes see further than the eyes of the
god himself; and their one thought is the accomplishment, with
untiring sacrifice, of the mysterious duty of their race.


Let us now, having learned from books all that they had to teach us
of a very ancient history, leave the science others have acquired
and look at the bees with our own eyes. An hour spent in the midst
of the apiary will be less instructive, perhaps; but the things we
shall see will be infinitely more stimulating and more actual.

I have not yet forgotten the first apiary I saw, where I learned to
love the bees. It was many years ago, in a large village of Dutch
Flanders, the sweet and pleasant country whose love for brilliant
colour rivals that of Zealand even, the concave mirror of Holland; a
country that gladly spreads out before us, as so many pretty,
thoughtful toys, her illuminated gables, and waggons, and towers;
her cupboards and clocks that gleam at the end of the passage; her
little trees marshalled in line along quays and canal-banks,
waiting, one almost might think, for some quiet, beneficent
ceremony; her boats and her barges with sculptured poops, her
flower-like doors and windows, immaculate dams, and elaborate,
many-coloured drawbridges; and her little varnished houses, bright
as new pottery, from which bell-shaped dames come forth, all
a-glitter with silver and gold, to milk the cows in the white-hedged
fields, or spread the linen on flowery lawns, cut into patterns of
oval and lozenge, and most astoundingly green.

To this spot, where life would seem more restricted than
elsewhere--if it be possible for life indeed to become restricted--a
sort of aged philosopher had retired; an old man somewhat akin to

     "Man equal to kings, and approaching the gods;"

whereto Lafontaine might have added,--

     "And, like the gods, content and at rest."

Here had he built his refuge, being a little weary; not disgusted,
for the large aversions are unknown to the sage; but a little weary
of interrogating men, whose answers to the only interesting
questions one can put concerning nature and her veritable laws are
far less simple than those that are given by animals and plants. His
happiness, like the Scythian philosopher's, lay all in the beauties
of his garden; and best-loved and visited most often, was the
apiary, composed of twelve domes of straw, some of which he had
painted a bright pink, and some a clear yellow, but most of all a
tender blue; having noticed, long before Sir John Lubbock's
demonstrations, the bees' fondness for this colour.

These hives stood against the wall of the house, in the angle formed
by one of those pleasant and graceful Dutch kitchens whose
earthenware dresser, all bright with copper and tin, reflected
itself through the open door on to the peaceful canal. And the
water, burdened with these familiar images beneath its curtain of
poplars, led one's eyes to a calm horizon of mills and of meadows.

Here, as in all places, the hives lent a new meaning to the flowers
and the silence, the balm of the air and the rays of the sun. One
seemed to have drawn very near to the festival spirit of nature. One
was content to rest at this radiant crossroad, where the aerial ways
converge and divide that the busy and tuneful bearers of all country
perfumes unceasingly travel from dawn unto dusk. One heard the
musical voice of the garden, whose loveliest hours revealed their
rejoicing soul and sang of their gladness. One came hither, to the
school of the bees, to be taught the preoccupations of all-powerful
nature, the harmonious concord of the three kingdoms, the
indefatigable organisation of life, and the lesson of ardent and
disinterested work; and another lesson too, with a moral as good,
that the heroic workers taught there, and emphasised, as it were,
with the fiery darts of their myriad wings, was to appreciate the
somewhat vague savour of leisure, to enjoy the almost unspeakable
delights of those immaculate days that revolved on themselves in the
fields of space, forming merely a transparent globe, as void of
memory as the happiness without alloy.


In order to follow, as simply as possible, the life of the bees
through the year, we will take a hive that awakes in the spring and
duly starts on its labours; and then we shall meet, in their natural
order, all the great episodes, viz.: the formation and departure of
the swarm, the foundation of the new city, the birth, combat and
nuptial flight of the young queens, the massacre of the males, and
finally, the return of the sleep of winter. With each of these
episodes there will go the necessary explanations as to the laws,
habits, peculiarities and events that produce and accompany it; so
that, when arrived at the end of the bee's short year, which extends
only from April to the last days of September, we shall have gazed
upon all the mysteries of the palace of honey. Before we open it,
therefore, and throw a general glance around, we only need say that
the hive is composed of a queen, the mother of all her people; of
thousands of workers or neuters who are incomplete and sterile
females; and lastly of some hundreds of males, from whom one shall
be chosen as the sole and unfortunate consort of the queen that the
workers will elect in the future, after the more or less voluntary
departure of the reigning mother.


The first time that we open a hive there comes over us an emotion
akin to that we might feel at profaning some unknown object, charged
perhaps with dreadful surprise, as a tomb. A legend of menace and
peril still clings to the bees. There is the distressful
recollection of her sting, which produces a pain so characteristic
that one knows not wherewith to compare it; a kind of destroying
dryness, a flame of the desert rushing over the wounded limb, as
though these daughters of the sun had distilled a dazzling poison
from their father's angry rays, in order more effectively to defend
the treasure they gather from his beneficent hours.

It is true that were some one who neither knows nor respects the
customs and character of the bee suddenly to fling open the hive, it
would turn at once into a burning bush of heroism and anger; but the
slight amount of skill needed to handle it with impunity can be most
readily acquired. Let but a little smoke be deftly applied, much
coolness and gentleness be shown, and our well-armed workers will
suffer themselves to be despoiled without dreaming of drawing their
sting. It is not the fact, as some have maintained, that the bees
recognise their master; nor have they any fear of man; but at the
smell of the smoke, at the large slow gestures that traverse their
dwellings without threatening them, they imagine that this is not
the attack of an enemy against whom defence is possible, but that it
is a force or a natural catastrophe whereto they do well to submit.

Instead of vainly struggling, therefore, they do what they can to
safeguard the future; and, obeying a foresight that for once is in
error, they fly to their reserves of honey, into which they eagerly
dip in order to possess within themselves the wherewithal to start a
new city, immediately and no matter where, should the ancient one be
destroyed or they be compelled to forsake it.


The first impression of the novice before whom an observation-hive*
is opened will be one of some disappointment. He had been told that
this little glass case contained an unparalleled activity, an
infinite number of wise laws, and a startling amalgam of mystery,
experience, genius, calculation, science, of various industries, of
certitude and prescience, of intelligent habits and curious feelings
and virtues. All that he sees is a confused mass of little reddish
groups, somewhat resembling roasted coffee-berries, or bunches of
raisins piled against the glass. They look more dead than alive;
their movements are slow, incoherent, and incomprehensible. Can
these be the wonderful drops of light he had seen but a moment ago,
unceasingly flashing and sparkling, as they darted among the pearls
and the gold of a thousand wide-open calyces?

By observation-hive is meant a hive of glass, furnished with black
curtains or shutters. The best kind have only one comb, thus
permitting both faces to be studied. These hives can be placed in a
drawing-room, library, etc., without inconvenience or danger. The
bees that inhabit the one I have in my study in Paris are able even
in the stony desert of that great city, to find the wherewithal to
nourish themselves and to prosper.

They appear to be shivering in the darkness, to be numbed,
suffocated, so closely are they huddled together; one might fancy
they were ailing captives, or queens dethroned, who have had their
one moment of glory in the midst of their radiant garden, and are
now compelled to return to the shameful squalor of their poor
overcrowded home.

It is with them as with all that is deeply real; they must be
studied, and one must learn how to study them. The inhabitant of
another planet who should see men and women coming and going almost
imperceptibly through our streets, crowding at certain times around
certain buildings, or waiting for one knows not what, without
apparent movement, in the depths of their dwellings, might conclude
therefrom that they, too, were miserable and inert. It takes time to
distinguish the manifold activity contained in this inertia.

And indeed every one of the little almost motionless groups in the
hive is incessantly working, each at a different trade. Repose is
unknown to any; and such, for instance, as seem the most torpid, as
they hang in dead clusters against the glass, are intrusted with the
most mysterious and fatiguing task of all: it is they who secrete
and form the wax. But the details of this universal activity will be
given in their place. For the moment we need only call attention to
the essential trait in the nature of the bee which accounts for the
extraordinary agglomeration of the various workers. The bee is above
all, and even to a greater extent than the ant, a creature of the
crowd. She can live only in the midst of a multitude. When she
leaves the hive, which is so densely packed that she has to force
her way with blows of her head through the living walls that enclose
her, she departs from her proper element. She will dive for an
instant into flower-filled space, as the swimmer will dive into the
sea that is filled with pearls, but under pain of death it behoves
her at regular intervals to return and breathe the crowd as the
swimmer must return and breathe the air. Isolate her, and however
abundant the food or favourable the temperature, she will expire in
a few days not of hunger or cold, but of loneliness. From the crowd,
from the city, she derives an invisible aliment that is as necessary
to her as honey. This craving will help to explain the spirit of the
laws of the hive. For in them the individual is nothing, her
existence conditional only, and herself, for one indifferent moment,
a winged organ of the race. Her whole life is an entire sacrifice to
the manifold, everlasting being whereof she forms part. It is
strange to note that it was not always so. We find even to-day,
among the melliferous hymenoptera, all the stages of progressive
civilisation of our own domestic bee. At the bottom of the scale we
find her working alone, in wretchedness, often not seeing her
offspring (the Prosopis, the Colletes, etc.); sometimes living in
the midst of the limited family that she produces annually (as in
the case of the humble-bee). Then she forms temporary associations (the
Panurgi, the Dasypodoe, the Hacliti, etc.) and at last we arrive,
through successive stages, at the almost perfect but pitiless society of
our hives, where the individual is entirely merged in the republic, and
the republic in its turn invariably sacrificed to the abstract and
immortal city of the future.


Let us not too hastily deduce from these facts conclusions that
apply to man. He possesses the power of withstanding certain of
nature's laws; and to know whether such resistance be right or wrong
is the gravest and obscurest point in his morality. But it is deeply
interesting to discover what the will of nature may be in a
different world; and this will is revealed with extraordinary
clearness in the evolution of the hymenoptera, which, of all the
inhabitants of this globe, possess the highest degree of intellect
after that of man. The aim of nature is manifestly the improvement
of the race; but no less manifest is her inability, or refusal, to
obtain such improvement except at the cost of the liberty, the
rights, and the happiness of the individual. In proportion as a
society organises itself, and rises in the scale, so does a
shrinkage enter the private life of each one of its members. Where
there is progress, it is the result only of a more and more complete
sacrifice of the individual to the general interest. Each one is
compelled, first of all, to renounce his vices, which are acts of
independence. For instance, at the last stage but one of apiarian
civilisation, we find the humble-bees, which are like our cannibals.
The adult workers are incessantly hovering around the eggs, which
they seek to devour, and the mother has to display the utmost
stubbornness in their defence. Then having freed himself from his
most dangerous vices, each individual has to acquire a certain
number of more and more painful virtues. Among the humble-bees, for
instance, the workers do not dream of renouncing love, whereas our
domestic bee lives in a state of perpetual chastity. And indeed we
soon shall show how much more she has to abandon, in exchange for
the comfort and security of the hive, for its architectural,
economic, and political perfection; and we shall return to the
evolution of the hymenoptera in the chapter devoted to the progress
of the species.



WE will now, so as to draw more closely to nature, consider the
different episodes of the swarm as they come to pass in an ordinary
hive, which is ten or twenty times more populous than an observation
one, and leaves the bees entirely free and untrammelled.

Here, then, they have shaken off the torpor of winter. The queen
started laying again in the very first days of February, and the
workers have flocked to the willows and nut-trees, gorse and
violets, anemones and lungworts. Then spring invades the earth, and
cellar and stream with honey and pollen, while each day beholds the
birth of thousands of bees. The overgrown males now all sally forth
from their cells, and disport themselves on the combs; and so
crowded does the too prosperous city become that hundreds of belated
workers, coming back from the flowers towards evening, will vainly
seek shelter within, and will be forced to spend the night on the
threshold, where they will be decimated by the cold. Restlessness
seizes the people, and the old queen begins to stir. She feels that
a new destiny is being prepared. She has religiously fulfilled her
duty as a good creatress; and from this duty done there result only
tribulation and sorrow. An invincible power menaces her
tranquillity; she will soon be forced to quit this city of hers,
where she has reigned. But this city is her work, it is she,
herself. She is not its queen in the sense in which men use the
word. She issues no orders; she obeys, as meekly as the humblest of
her subjects, the masked power, sovereignly wise, that for the
present, and till we attempt to locate it, we will term the "spirit
of the hive." But she is the unique organ of love; she is the mother
of the city. She founded it amid uncertainty and poverty. She has
peopled it with her own substance; and all who move within its
walls--workers, males, larvae, nymphs, and the young princesses
whose approaching birth will hasten her own departure, one of them
being already designed as her successor by the "spirit of the
hive"--all these have issued from her flanks.


What is this "spirit of the hive"--where does it reside? It is not
like the special instinct that teaches the bird to construct its
well planned nest, and then seek other skies when the day for
migration returns. Nor is it a kind of mechanical habit of the race,
or blind craving for life, that will fling the bees upon any wild
hazard the moment an unforeseen event shall derange the accustomed
order of phenomena. On the contrary, be the event never so
masterful, the "spirit of the hive" still will follow it, step by
step, like an alert and quickwitted slave, who is able to derive
advantage even from his master's most dangerous orders.

It disposes pitilessly of the wealth and the happiness, the liberty
and life, of all this winged people; and yet with discretion, as
though governed itself by some great duty. It regulates day by day
the number of births, and contrives that these shall strictly accord
with the number of flowers that brighten the country-side. It
decrees the queen's deposition or warns her that she must depart; it
compels her to bring her own rivals into the world, and rears them
royally, protecting them from their mother's political hatred. So,
too, in accordance with the generosity of the flowers, the age of
the spring, and the probable dangers of the nuptial flight, will it
permit or forbid the first-born of the virgin princesses to slay in
their cradles her younger sisters, who are singing the song of the
queens. At other times, when the season wanes, and flowery hours
grow shorter, it will command the workers themselves to slaughter
the whole imperial brood, that the era of revolutions may close, and
work become the sole object of all. The "spirit of the hive" is
prudent and thrifty, but by no means parsimonious. And thus, aware,
it would seem, that nature's laws are somewhat wild and extravagant
in all that pertains to love, it tolerates, during summer days of
abundance, the embarrassing presence in the hive of three or four
hundred males, from whose ranks the queen about to be born shall
select her lover; three or four hundred foolish, clumsy, useless,
noisy creatures, who are pretentious, gluttonous, dirty, coarse,
totally and scandalously idle, insatiable, and enormous.

But after the queen's impregnation, when flowers begin to close
sooner, and open later, the spirit one morning will coldly decree
the simultaneous and general massacre of every male. It regulates
the workers' labours, with due regard to their age; it allots their
task to the nurses who tend the nymphs and the larvae, the ladies of
honour who wait on the queen and never allow her out of their sight;
the house-bees who air, refresh, or heat the hive by fanning their
wings, and hasten the evaporation of the honey that may be too
highly charged with water; the architects, masons, wax-workers, and
sculptors who form the chain and construct the combs; the foragers
who sally forth to the flowers in search of the nectar that turns
into honey, of the pollen that feeds the nymphs and the larvae, the
propolis that welds and strengthens the buildings of the city, or
the water and salt required by the youth of the nation. Its orders
have gone to the chemists who ensure the preservation of the honey
by letting a drop of formic acid fall in from the end of their
sting; to the capsule-makers who seal down the cells when the
treasure is ripe, to the sweepers who maintain public places and
streets most irreproachably clean, to the bearers whose duty it is
to remove the corpses; and to the amazons of the guard who keep
watch on the threshold by night and by day, question comers and
goers, recognise the novices who return from their very first
flight, scare away vagabonds, marauders and loiterers, expel all
intruders, attack redoubtable foes in a body, and, if need be,
barricade the entrance.

Finally, it is the spirit of the hive that fixes the hour of the
great annual sacrifice to the genius of the race: the hour, that is,
of the swarm; when we find a whole people, who have attained the
topmost pinnacle of prosperity and power, suddenly abandoning to the
generation to come their wealth and their palaces, their homes and
the fruits of their labour; themselves content to encounter the
hardships and perils of a new and distant country. This act, be it
conscious or not, undoubtedly passes the limits of human morality.
Its result will sometimes be ruin, but poverty always; and the
thrice-happy city is scattered abroad in obedience to a law superior
to its own happiness. Where has this law been decreed, which, as we
soon shall find, is by no means as blind and inevitable as one might
believe? Where, in what assembly, what council, what intellectual
and moral sphere, does this spirit reside to whom all must submit,
itself being vassal to an heroic duty, to an intelligence whose eyes
are persistently fixed on the future?

It comes to pass with the bees as with most of the things in this
world; we remark some few of their habits; we say they do this, they
work in such and such fashion, their queens are born thus, their
workers are virgin, they swarm at a certain time. And then we
imagine we know them, and ask nothing more. We watch them hasten
from flower to flower, we see the constant agitation within the
hive; their life seems very simple to us, and bounded, like every
life, by the instinctive cares of reproduction and nourishment. But
let the eye draw near, and endeavour to see; and at once the least
phenomenon of all becomes overpoweringly complex; we are confronted
by the enigma of intellect, of destiny, will, aim, means, causes;
the incomprehensible organisation of the most insignificant act of


Our hive, then, is preparing to swarm; making ready for the great
immolation to the exacting gods of the race. In obedience to
the order of the spirit--an order that to us may well seem
incomprehensible, for it is entirely opposed to all our own
instincts and feelings--60,000 or 70,000 bees out of the 80,000 or
90,000 that form the whole population, will abandon the maternal
city at the prescribed hour. They will not leave at a moment of
despair; or desert, with sudden and wild resolve, a home laid waste
by famine, disease, or war. No, the exile has long been planned, and
the favourable hour patiently awaited. Were the hive poor, had it
suffered from pillage or storm, had misfortune befallen the royal
family, the bees would not forsake it. They leave it only when it
has attained the apogee of its prosperity; at a time when, after the
arduous labours of the spring, the immense palace of wax has its
120,000 well-arranged cells overflowing with new honey, and with the
many-coloured flour, known as "bees' bread," on which nymphs and
larvae are fed.

Never is the hive more beautiful than on the eve of its heroic
renouncement, in its unrivalled hour of fullest abundance and joy;
serene for all its apparent excitement and feverishness.

Let us endeavour to picture it to ourselves, not as it appears to
the bees,--for we cannot tell in what magical, formidable fashion
things may be reflected in the 6,000 or 7,000 facets of their
lateral eyes and the triple cyclopean eye on their brow,--but as it
would seem to us, were we of their stature. From the height of a
dome more colossal than that of St. Peter's at Rome waxen walls
descend to the ground, balanced in the void and the darkness;
gigantic and manifold, vertical and parallel geometric
constructions, to which, for relative precision, audacity, and
vastness, no human structure is comparable. Each of these walls,
whose substance still is immaculate and fragrant, of virginal,
silvery freshness, contains thousands of cells, that are stored with
provisions sufficient to feed the whole people for several weeks.
Here, lodged in transparent cells, are the pollens, love-ferment of
every flower of spring, making brilliant splashes of red and yellow,
of black and mauve. Close by, in twenty thousand reservoirs, sealed
with a seal that shall only be broken on days of supreme distress,
the honey of April is stored, most limpid and perfumed of all,
wrapped round with long and magnificent embroidery of gold, whose
borders hang stiff and rigid. Still lower the honey of May matures,
in great open vats, by whose side watchful cohorts maintain an
incessant current of air. In the centre, and far from the light
whose diamond rays steal in through the only opening, in the warmest
part of the hive, there stands the abode of the future; here does it
sleep, and wake. For this is the royal domain of the brood-cells,
set apart for the queen and her acolytes; about 10,000 cells wherein
the eggs repose, 15,000 or 16,000 chambers tenanted by larvae,
40,000 dwellings inhabited by white nymphs to whom thousands of
nurses minister.* And finally, in the holy of holies of these partss
are the three, four, six, or twelve sealed palaces, vast in size
compared with the others, where the adolescent princesses lie who
await their hour, wrapped in a kind of shroud, all of them
motionless and pale, and fed in the darkness.

     *The figures given here are scrupulously exact. They are
     those of a well-filled hive in full prosperity.

On the day, then, that the Spirit of the Hive has ordained, a
certain part of the population will go forth, selected in accordance
with sure and immovable laws, and make way for hopes that as yet are
formless. In the sleeping city there remain the males, from whose
ranks the royal lover shall come, the very young bees that tend the
brood-cells, and some thousands of workers who continue to forage
abroad, to guard the accumulated treasure, and preserve the moral
traditions of the hive. For each hive has its own code of morals.
There are some that are very virtuous and some that are very
perverse; and a careless bee-keeper will often corrupt his people,
destroy their respect for the property of others, incite them to
pillage, and induce in them habits of conquest and idleness which
will render them sources of danger to all the little republics
around. These things result from the bee's discovery that work among
distant flowers, whereof many hundreds must be visited to form one
drop of honey, is not the only or promptest method of acquiring
wealth, but that it is easier to enter ill-guarded cities by
stratagem, or force her way into others too weak for self-defence.
Nor is it easy to restore to the paths of duty a hive that has
become thus depraved.


All things go to prove that it is not the queen, but the spirit of
the hive, that decides on the swarm. With this queen of ours it
happens as with many a chief among men, who though he appear to give
orders, is himself obliged to obey commands far more mysterious, far
more inexplicable, than those he issues to his subordinates. The
hour once fixed, the spirit will probably let it be known at break
of dawn, or the previous night, if indeed not two nights before; for
scarcely has the sun drunk in the first drops of dew when a most
unaccustomed stir, whose meaning the bee-keeper rarely will fail to
grasp, is to be noticed within and around the buzzing city. At times
one would almost appear to detect a sign of dispute, hesitation,
recoil. It will happen even that for day after day a strange
emotion, apparently without cause, will appear and vanish in this
transparent, golden throng. Has a cloud that we cannot see crept
across the sky that the bees are watching; or is their intellect
battling with a new regret? Does a winged council debate the
necessity of the departure? Of this we know nothing; as we know
nothing of the manner in which the spirit conveys its resolution to
the crowd. Certain as it may seem that the bees communicate with
each other, we know not whether this be done in human fashion. It is
possible even that their own refrain may be inaudible to them: the
murmur that comes to us heavily laden with perfume of honey, the
ecstatic whisper of fairest summer days that the bee-keeper loves so
well, the festival song of labour that rises and falls around the
hive in the crystal of the hour, and might almost be the chant of
the eager flowers, hymn of their gladness and echo of their soft
fragrance, the voice of the white carnations, the marjoram, and the
thyme. They have, however, a whole gamut of sounds that we can
distinguish, ranging from profound delight to menace, distress, and
anger; they have the ode of the queen, the song of abundance, the
psalms of grief, and, lastly, the long and mysterious war-cries the
adolescent princesses send forth during the combats and massacres
that precede the nuptial flight. May this be a fortuitous music that
fails to attain their inward silence? In any event they seem not the
least disturbed at the noises we make near the hive; but they regard
these perhaps as not of their world, and possessed of no interest
for them. It is possible that we on our side hear only a fractional
part of the sounds that the bees produce, and that they have many
harmonies to which our ears are not attuned. We soon shall see with
what startling rapidity they are able to understand each other, and
adopt concerted measures, when, for instance, the great honey thief,
the huge sphinx atropos, the sinister butterfly that bears a death's
head on its back, penetrates into the hive, humming its own strange
note, which acts as a kind of irresistible incantation; the news
spreads quickly from group to group, and from the guards at the
threshold to the workers on the furthest combs, the whole population


It was for a long time believed that when these wise bees, generally
so prudent, so far-sighted and economical, abandoned the treasures
of their kingdom and flung themselves upon the uncertainties of
life, they were yielding to a kind of irresistible folly, a
mechanical impulse, a law of the species, a decree of nature, or to
the force that for all creatures lies hidden in the revolution of
time. It is our habit, in the case of the bees no less than our own,
to regard as fatality all that we do not as yet understand. But now
that the hive has surrendered two or three of its material secrets,
we have discovered that this exodus is neither instinctive nor
inevitable. It is not a blind emigration, but apparently the
well-considered sacrifice of the present generation in favour of the
generation to come. The bee-keeper has only to destroy in their
cells the young queens that still are inert, and, at the same time,
if nymphs and larvae abound, to enlarge the store-houses and
dormitories of the nation, for this unprofitable tumult
instantaneously to subside, for work to be at once resumed, and the
flowers revisited; while the old queen, who now is essential again,
with no successor to hope for, or perhaps to fear, will renounce for
this year her desire for the light of the sun. Reassured as to the
future of the activity that will soon spring into life, she will
tranquilly resume her maternal labours, which consist in the laying
of two or three thousand eggs a day, as she passes, in a methodical
spiral, from cell to cell, omitting none, and never pausing to rest.

Where is the fatality here, save in the love of the race of to-day
for the race of to-morrow? This fatality exists in the human species
also, but its extent and power seem infinitely less. Among men it
never gives rise to sacrifices as great, as unanimous, or as
complete. What far-seeing fatality, taking the place of this one, do
we ourselves obey? We know not; as we know not the being who watches
us as we watch the bees.

But the hive that we have selected is disturbed in its history by no
interference of man; and as the beautiful day advances with radiant
and tranquil steps beneath the trees, its ardour, still bathed in
dew, makes the appointed hour seem laggard. Over the whole surface
of the golden corridors that divide the parallel walls the workers
are busily making preparation for the journey. And each one will
first of all burden herself with provision of honey sufficient for
five or six days. From this honey that they bear within them they
will distil, by a chemical process still unexplained, the wax
required for the immediate construction of buildings. They will
provide themselves also with a certain amount of propolis, a kind of
resin with which they will seal all the crevices in the new
dwelling, strengthen weak places, varnish the walls, and exclude the
light; for the bees love to work in almost total obscurity, guiding
themselves with their many-faceted eyes, or with their antennae
perhaps, the seat, it would seem, of an unknown sense that fathoms
and measures the darkness.


They are not without prescience, therefore, of what is to befall
them on this the most dangerous day of all their existence. Absorbed
by the cares, the prodigious perils of this mighty adventure, they
will have no time now to visit the gardens and meadows; and
to-morrow, and after tomorrow, it may happen that rain may fall, or
there may be wind; that their wings may be frozen or the flowers
refuse to open. Famine and death would await them were it not for
this foresight of theirs. None would come to their help, nor would
they seek help of any. For one city knows not the other, and
assistance never is given. And even though the bee-keeper deposit
the hive, in which he has gathered the old queen and her attendant
cluster of bees, by the side of the abode they have but this moment
quitted, they would seem, be the disaster never so great that shall
now have befallen them, to have wholly forgotten the peace and the
happy activity that once they had known there, the abundant wealth
and the safety that had then been their portion; and all, one by
one, and down to the last of them, will perish of hunger and cold
around their unfortunate queen rather than return to the home of
their birth, whose sweet odour of plenty, the fragrance, indeed, of
their own past assiduous labour, reaches them even in their


That is a thing, some will say, that men would not do,--a proof that
the bee, notwithstanding the marvels of its organisation, still is
lacking in intellect and veritable consciousness. Is this so
certain? Other beings, surely, may possess an intellect that differs
from ours, and produces different results, without therefore being
inferior. And besides, are we, even in this little human parish of
ours, such infallible judges of matters that pertain to the spirit?
Can we so readily divine the thoughts that may govern the two or
three people we may chance to see moving and talking behind a closed
window, when their words do not reach us? Or let us suppose that an
inhabitant of Venus or Mars were to contemplate us from the height
of a mountain, and watch the little black specks that we form in
space, as we come and go in the streets and squares of our towns.
Would the mere sight of our movements, our buildings, machines, and
canals, convey to him any precise idea of our morality, intellect,
our manner of thinking, and loving, and hoping,--in a word, of our
real and intimate self? All he could do, like ourselves when we gaze
at the hive, would be to take note of some facts that seem very
surprising; and from these facts to deduce conclusions probably no
less erroneous, no less uncertain, than those that we choose to form
concerning the bee.

This much at least is certain; our "little black specks" would not
reveal the vast moral direction, the wonderful unity, that are so
apparent in the hive. "Whither do they tend, and what is it they do?"
he would ask, after years and centuries of patient watching. "What
is the aim of their life, or its pivot? Do they obey some God? I can
see nothing that governs their actions. The little things that one
day they appear to collect and build up, the next they destroy and
scatter. They come and they go, they meet and disperse, but one
knows not what it is they seek. In numberless cases the spectacle
they present is altogether inexplicable. There are some, for
instance, who, as it were, seem scarcely to stir from their place.
They are to be distinguished by their glossier coat, and often too
by their more considerable bulk. They occupy buildings ten or twenty
times larger than ordinary dwellings, and richer, and more
ingeniously fashioned. Every day they spend many hours at their
meals, which sometimes indeed are prolonged far into the night. They
appear to be held in extraordinary honour by those who approach
them; men come from the neighbouring houses, bringing provisions,
and even from the depths of the country, laden with presents. One
can only assume that these persons must be indispensable to the
race, to which they render essential service, although our means of
investigation have not yet enabled us to discover what the precise
nature of this service may be. There are others, again, who are
incessantly engaged in the most wearisome labour, whether it be in
great sheds full of wheels that forever turn round and round, or
close by the shipping, or in obscure hovels, or on small plots of
earth that from sunrise to sunset they are constantly delving and
digging. We are led to believe that this labour must be an offence,
and punishable. For the persons guilty of it are housed in filthy,
ruinous, squalid cabins. They are clothed in some colourless hide.
So great does their ardour appear for this noxious, or at any rate
useless activity, that they scarcely allow themselves time to eat or
to sleep. In numbers they are to the others as a thousand to one. It
is remarkable that the species should have been able to survive to
this day under conditions so unfavourable to its development. It
should be mentioned, however, that apart from this characteristic
devotion to their wearisome toil, they appear inoffensive and
docile; and satisfied with the leavings of those who evidently are
the guardians, if not the saviours, of the race."


Is it not strange that the hive, which we vaguely survey from the
height of another world, should provide our first questioning glance
with so sure and profound a reply? Must we not admire the manner in
which the thought or the god that the bees obey is at once revealed
by their edifices, wrought with such striking conviction, by their
customs and laws, their political and economical organisation, their
virtues, and even their cruelties? Nor is this god, though it be
perhaps the only one to which man has as yet never offered serious
worship, by any means the least reasonable or the least legitimate
that we can conceive. The god of the bees is the future. When we, in
our study of human history, endeavour to gauge the moral force or
greatness of a people or race, we have but one standard of
measurement--the dignity and permanence of their ideal, and the
abnegation wherewith they pursue it. Have we often encountered an
ideal more conformable to the desires of the universe, more widely
manifest, more disinterested or sublime; have we often discovered an
abnegation more complete and heroic?


Strange little republic, that, for all its logic and gravity, its
matured conviction and prudence, still falls victim to so vast and
precarious a dream! Who shall tell us, O little people that are so
profoundly in earnest, that have fed on the warmth and the light and
on nature's purest, the soul of the flowers, wherein matter for once
seems to smile, and put forth it? most wistful effort towards beauty
and happiness,--who shall tell us what problems you have resolved,
but we not yet, what certitudes you have acquired that we still have
to conquer? And if you have truly resolved these problems, and
acquired these certitudes, by the aid of some blind and primitive
impulse and not through the intellect, then to what enigma, more
insoluble still, are you not urging us on? Little city abounding in
faith and mystery and hope, why do your myriad virgins consent to a
task that no human slave has ever accepted? Another spring might be
theirs, another summer, were they only a little less wasteful of
strength, a little less self-forgetful in their ardour for toil; but
at the magnificent moment when the flowers all cry to them, they
seem to be stricken with the fatal ecstasy of work; and in less than
five weeks they almost all perish, their wings broken, their bodies
shrivelled and covered with wounds.

    "Tantus amor florum, et generandi gloria mellis!"

cries Virgil in the fourth book of the Georgics, wherein he devotes
himself to the bees, and hands down to us the charming errors of the
ancients, who looked on nature with eyes still dazzled by the
presence of imaginary gods.


Why do they thus renounce sleep, the delights of honey and love,
and the exquisite leisure enjoyed, for instance, by their winged
brother, the butterfly? Why will they not live as he lives? It is
not hunger that urges them on. Two or three flowers suffice for
their nourishment, and in one hour they will visit two or three
hundred, to collect a treasure whose sweetness they never will
taste. Why all this toil and distress, and whence comes this mighty
assurance? Is it so certain, then, that the new generation whereunto
you offer your lives will merit the sacrifice; will be more
beautiful, happier, will do something you have not done? Your aim is
clear to us, clearer far than our own; you desire to live, as long
as the world itself, in those that come after; but what can the aim
be of this great aim; what the mission of this existence eternally

And yet may it not be that these questions are idle, and we who are
putting them to you mere childish dreamers, hedged round with error
and doubt? And, indeed, had successive evolutions installed you
all-powerful and supremely happy; had you gained the last heights,
whence at length you ruled over nature's laws; nay, were you
immortal goddesses, we still should be asking you what your desires
might be, your ideas of progress; still wondering where you imagined
that at last you would rest and declare your wishes fulfilled. We
are so made that nothing contents us; that we can regard no single
thing as having its aim self-contained, as simply existing, with no
thought beyond existence. Has there been, to this day, one god out
of all the multitude man has conceived, from the vulgarest to the
most thoughtful, of whom it has not been required that he shall be
active and stirring, that he shall create countless beings and
things, and have myriad aims outside himself? And will the time ever
come when we shall be resigned for a few hours tranquilly to
represent in this world an interesting form of material activity;
and then, our few hours over, to assume, without surprise and
without regret, that other form which is the unconscious, the
unknown, the slumbering, and the eternal?


But we are forgetting the hive wherein the swarming bees have begun
to lose patience, the hive whose black and vibrating waves are
bubbling and overflowing, like a brazen cup beneath an ardent sun.
It is noon; and the heat so great that the assembled trees would
seem almost to hold back their leaves, as a man holds his breath
before something very tender but very grave. The bees give their
honey and sweet-smelling wax to the man who attends them; but more
precious gift still is their summoning him to the gladness of June,
to the joy of the beautiful months; for events in which bees take
part happen only when skies are pure, at the winsome hours of the
year when flowers keep holiday. They are the soul of the summer, the
clock whose dial records the moments of plenty; they are the
untiring wing on which delicate perfumes float; the guide of the
quivering light-ray, the song of the slumberous, languid air; and
their flight is the token, the sure and melodious note, of all the
myriad fragile joys that are born in the heat and dwell in the
sunshine. They teach us to tune our ear to the softest, most
intimate whisper of these good, natural hours. To him who has known
them and loved them, a summer where there are no bees becomes as sad
and as empty as one without flowers or birds.


The man who never before has beheld the swarm of a populous hive
must regard this riotous, bewildering spectacle with some
apprehension and diffidence. He will be almost afraid to draw near;
he will wonder can these be the earnest, the peace-loving,
hard-working bees whose movements he has hitherto followed? It was
but a few moments before he had seen them troop in from all parts of
the country, as pre-occupied, seemingly, as little housewives might
be, with no thoughts beyond household cares. He had watched them
stream into the hive, imperceptibly almost, out of breath, eager,
exhausted, full of discreet agitation; and had seen the young
amazons stationed at the gate salute them, as they passed by, with
the slightest wave of antennae. And then, the inner court reached,
they had hurriedly given their harvest of honey to the adolescent
portresses always stationed within, exchanging with these at most
the three or four probably indispensable words; or perhaps they
would hasten themselves to the vast magazines that encircle the
brood-cells, and deposit the two heavy baskets of pollen that depend
from their thighs, thereupon at once going forth once more, without
giving a thought to what might be passing in the royal palace, the
work-rooms, or the dormitory where the nymphs lie asleep; without
for one instant joining in the babel of the public place in front of
the gate, where it is the wont of the cleaners, at time of great
heat, to congregate and to gossip.


To-day this is all changed. A certain number of workers, it is true,
will peacefully go to the fields, as though nothing were happening;
will come back, clean the hive, attend to the brood-cells, and hold
altogether aloof from the general ecstasy. These are the ones that
will not accompany the queen; they will remain to guard the old
home, feed the nine or ten thousand eggs, the eighteen thousand
larvae, the thirty-six thousand nymphs and seven or eight royal
princesses, that to-day shall all be abandoned. Why they have been
singled out for this austere duty, by what law, or by whom, it is
not in our power to divine. To this mission of theirs they remain
inflexibly, tranquilly faithful; and though I have many times tried
the experiment of sprinkling a colouring matter over one of these
resigned Cinderellas, that are moreover easily to be distinguished
in the midst of the rejoicing crowds by their serious and somewhat
ponderous gait, it is rarely indeed that I have found one of them in
the delirious throng of the swarm.

And yet, the attraction must seem irresistible. It is the ecstasy of
the perhaps unconscious sacrifice the god has ordained; it is the
festival of honey, the triumph of the race, the victory of the
future: the one day of joy, of forgetfulness and folly; the only
Sunday known to the bees. It would appear to be also the solitary
day upon which all eat their fill, and revel, to heart's content, in
the delights of the treasure themselves have amassed. It is as
though they were prisoners to whom freedom at last had been given,
who had suddenly been led to a land of refreshment and plenty. They
exult, they cannot contain the joy that is in them. They come and go
aimlessly,--they whose every movement has always its precise and
useful purpose--they depart and return, sally forth once again to
see if the queen be ready, to excite their sisters, to beguile the
tedium of waiting. They fly much higher than is their wont, and the
leaves of the mighty trees round about all quiver responsive. They
have left trouble behind, and care. They no longer are meddling and
fierce, aggressive, suspicious, untamable, angry. Man--the unknown
master whose sway they never acknowledge, who can subdue them only
by conforming to their every law, to their habits of labour, and
following step by step the path that is traced in their life by an
intellect nothing can thwart or turn from its purpose, by a spirit
whose aim is always the good of the morrow--on this day man can
approach them, can divide the glittering curtain they form as they
fly round and round in songful circles; he can take them up in his
hand, and gather them as he would a bunch of grapes; for to-day, in
their gladness, possessing nothing, but full of faith in the future,
they will submit to everything and injure no one, provided only they
be not separated from the queen who bears that future within her.


But the veritable signal has not yet been given. In the hive there
is indescribable confusion; and a disorder whose meaning escapes us.
At ordinary times each bee, once returned to her home, would appear
to forget her possession of wings; and will pursue her active
labours, making scarcely a movement, on that particular spot in the
hive that her special duties assign. But to-day they all seem
bewitched; they fly in dense circles round and round the polished
walls like a living jelly stirred by an invisible hand. The
temperature within rises rapidly,--to such a degree, at times, that
the wax of the buildings will soften, and twist out of shape. The
queen, who ordinarily never will stir from the centre of the comb,
now rushes wildly, in breathless excitement, over the surface of the
vehement crowd that turn and turn on themselves. Is she hastening
their departure, or trying to delay it? Does she command, or haply
implore? Does this prodigious emotion issue from her, or is she its
victim? Such knowledge as we possess of the general psychology of
the bee warrants the belief that the swarming always takes place
against the old sovereign's will. For indeed the ascetic workers,
her daughters, regard the queen above all as the organ of love,
indispensable, certainly, and sacred, but in herself somewhat
unconscious, and often of feeble mind. They treat her like a mother
in her dotage. Their respect for her, their tenderness, is heroic
and boundless. The purest honey, specially distilled and almost
entirely assimilable, is reserved for her use alone. She has an
escort that watches over her by day and by night, that facilitates
her maternal duties and gets ready the cells wherein the eggs shall
be laid; she has loving attendants who pet and caress her, feed her
and clean her, and even absorb her excrement. Should the least
accident befall her the news will spread quickly from group to
group, and the whole population will rush to and fro in loud
lamentation. Seize her, imprison her, take her away from the hive at
a time when the bees shall have no hope of filling her place, owing,
it may be, to her having left no predestined descendants, or to
there being no larvae less than three days old (for a special
nourishment is capable of transforming these into royal nymphs, such
being the grand democratic principle of the hive, and a counterpoise
to the prerogatives of maternal predestination), and then, her loss
once known, after two or three hours, perhaps, for the city is vast;
work will cease in almost every direction. The young will no longer
be cared for; part of the inhabitants will wander in every
direction, seeking their mother, in quest of whom others will sally
forth from the hive; the workers engaged in constructing the comb
will fall asunder and scatter, the foragers no longer will visit the
flowers, the guard at the entrance will abandon their post; and
foreign marauders, all the parasites of honey, forever on the watch
for opportunities of plunder, will freely enter and leave without
any one giving a thought to the defence of the treasure that has
been so laboriously gathered. And poverty, little by little, will
steal into the city; the population will dwindle; and the wretched
inhabitants soon will perish of distress and despair, though every
flower of summer burst into bloom before them.

But let the queen be restored before her loss has become an
accomplished, irremediable fact, before the bees have grown too
profoundly demoralised,--for in this they resemble men: a prolonged
regret, or misfortune, will impair their intellect and degrade their
character,--let her be restored but a few hours later, and they will
receive her with extraordinary, pathetic welcome. They will flock
eagerly round her; excited groups will climb over each other in
their anxiety to draw near; as she passes among them they will
caress her with the long antennae that contain so many organs as yet
unexplained; they will present her with honey, and escort her
tumultuously back to the royal chamber. And order at once is
restored, work resumed, from the central comb of the brood-cells to
the furthest annex where the surplus honey is stored; the foragers
go forth, in long black files, to return, in less than three minutes
sometimes, laden with nectar and pollen; streets are swept,
parasites and marauders killed or expelled; and the hive soon
resounds with the gentle, monotonous cadence of the strange hymn of
rejoicing, which is, it would seem, the hymn of the royal presence.


There are numberless instances of the absolute attachment and
devotion that the workers display towards their queen. Should
disaster befall the little republic; should the hive or the comb
collapse, should man prove ignorant, or brutal; should they suffer
from famine, from cold or disease, and perish by thousands, it will
still be almost invariably found that the queen will be safe and
alive, beneath the corpses of her faithful daughters. For they will
protect her, help her to escape; their bodies will provide both
rampart and shelter; for her will be the last drop of honey, the
wholesomest food. And be the disaster never so great, the city of
virgins will not lose heart so long as the queen be alive. Break
their comb twenty times in succession, take twenty times from them
their young and their food, you still shall never succeed in making
them doubt of the future; and though they be starving, and their
number so small that it scarcely suffices to shield their mother
from the enemy's gaze, they will set about to reorganize the laws of
the colony, and to provide for what is most pressing; they will
distribute the work in accordance with the new necessities of this
disastrous moment, and thereupon will immediately re-assume their
labours with an ardour, a patience, a tenacity and intelligence not
often to be found existing to such a degree in nature, true though
it be that most of its creatures display more confidence and courage
than man.

But the presence of the queen is not even essential for their
discouragement to vanish and their love to endure. It is enough that
she should have left, at the moment of her death or departure, the
very slenderest hope of descendants. "We have seen a colony," says
Langstroth, one of the fathers of modern apiculture, "that had not
bees sufficient to cover a comb of three inches square, and yet
endeavoured to rear a queen. For two whole weeks did they cherish
this hope; finally, when their number was reduced by one-half, their
queen was born, but her wings were imperfect, and she was unable to
fly. Impotent as she was, her bees did not treat her with the less
respect. A week more, and there remained hardly a dozen bees; yet a
few days, and the queen had vanished, leaving a few wretched,
inconsolable insects upon the combs."

There is another instance, and one that reveals most palpably the
ultimate gesture of filial love and devotion. It arises from one of
the extraordinary ordeals that our recent and tyrannical
intervention inflicts on these hapless, unflinching heroines. I, in
common with all amateur bee-keepers, have more than once had
impregnated queens sent me from Italy; for the Italian species is
more prolific, stronger, more active, and gentler than our own. It
is the custom to forward them in small, perforated boxes. In these
some food is placed, and the queen enclosed, together with a certain
number of workers, selected as far as possible from among the oldest
bees in the hive. (The age of the bee can be readily told by its
body, which gradually becomes more polished, thinner, and almost
bald; and more particularly by the wings, which hard work uses and
tears.) It is their mission to feed the queen during the journey, to
tend her and guard her. I would frequently find, when the box
arrived, that nearly every one of the workers was dead. On one
occasion, indeed, they had all perished of hunger; but in this
instance as in all others the queen was alive, unharmed, and full of
vigour; and the last of her companions had probably passed away in
the act of presenting the last drop of honey she held in her sac to
the queen, who was symbol of a life more precious, more vast than
her own.


This unwavering affection having come under the notice of man, he
was able to turn to his own advantage the qualities to which it
gives rise, or that it perhaps contains: the admirable political
sense, the passion for work, the perseverance, magnanimity, and
devotion to the future. It has allowed him, in the course of the
last few years, to a certain extent to domesticate these intractable
insects, though without their knowledge; for they yield to no
foreign strength, and in their unconscious servitude obey only the
laws of their own adoption. Man may believe, if he choose, that,
possessing the queen, he holds in his hand the destiny and soul of
the hive. In accordance with the manner in which he deals with
her--as it were, plays with her--he can increase and hasten the
swarm or restrict and retard it; he can unite or divide colonies,
and direct the emigration of kingdoms. And yet it is none the less
true that the queen is essentially merely a sort of living symbol,
standing, as all symbols must, for a vaster although less
perceptible principle; and this principle the apiarist will do well
to take into account, if he would not expose himself to more than
one unexpected reverse. For the bees are by no means deluded. The
presence of the queen does not blind them to the existence of their
veritable sovereign, immaterial and everlasting, which is no other
than their fixed idea. Why inquire as to whether this idea be
conscious or not? Such speculation can have value only if our
anxiety be to determine whether we should more rightly admire the
bees that have the idea, or nature that has planted it in them.
Wherever it lodge, in the vast unknowable body or in the tiny ones
that we see, it merits our deepest attention; nor may it be out of
place here to observe that it is the habit we have of subordinating
our wonder to accidents of origin or place, that so often causes us
to lose the chance of deep admiration; which of all things in the
world is the most helpful to us.


These conjectures may perhaps be regarded as exceedingly
venturesome, and possibly also as unduly human. It may be urged that
the bees, in all probability, have no idea of the kind; that their
care for the future, love of the race, and many other feelings we
choose to ascribe to them, are truly no more than forms assumed by
the necessities of life, the fear of suffering or death, and the
attraction of pleasure. Let it be so; look on it all as a figure of
speech; it is a matter to which I attach no importance. The one
thing certain here, as it is the one thing certain in all other
cases, is that, under special circumstances, the bees will treat
their queen in a special manner. The rest is all mystery, around
which we only can weave more or less ingenious and pleasant
conjecture. And yet, were we speaking of man in the manner wherein
it were wise perhaps to speak of the bee, is there very much more we
could say? He too yields only to necessity, the attraction of
pleasure, and the fear of suffering; and what we call our intellect
has the same origin and mission as what in animals we choose to term
instinct. We do certain things, whose results we conceive to be
known to us; other things happen, and we flatter ourselves that we
are better equipped than animals can be to divine their cause; but,
apart from the fact that this supposition rests on no very solid
foundation, events of this nature are rare and infinitesimal,
compared with the vast mass of others that elude comprehension; and
all, the pettiest and the most sublime, the best known and the most
inexplicable, the nearest and the most distant, come to pass in a
night so profound that our blindness may well be almost as great as
that we suppose in the bee.


"All must agree," remarks Buffon, who has a somewhat amusing
prejudice against the bee,--"all must agree that these flies,
individually considered, possess far less genius than the dog, the
monkey, or the majority of animals; that they display far less
docility, attachment, or sentiment; that they have, in a word, less
qualities that relate to our own; and from that we may conclude that
their apparent intelligence derives only from their assembled
multitude; nor does this union even argue intelligence, for it is
governed by no moral considerations, it being without their consent
that they find themselves gathered together. This society,
therefore, is no more than a physical assemblage ordained by nature,
and independent either of knowledge, or reason, or aim. The
mother-bee produces ten thousand individuals at a time, and in the
same place; these ten thousand individuals, were they a thousand
times stupider than I suppose them to be, would be compelled, for
the mere purpose of existence, to contrive some form of arrangement;
and, assuming that they had begun by injuring each other, they
would, as each one possesses the same strength as its fellow, soon
have ended by doing each other the least possible harm, or, in other
words, by rendering assistance. They have the appearance of
understanding each other, and of working for a common aim; and the
observer, therefore, is apt to endow them with reasons and intellect
that they truly are far from possessing. He will pretend to account
for each action, show a reason behind every movement; and from
thence the gradation is easy to proclaiming them marvels, or
monsters, of innumerable ideas. Whereas the truth is that these ten
thousand individuals, that have been produced simultaneously, that
have lived together, and undergone metamorphosis at more or less the
same time, cannot fail all to do the same thing, and are compelled,
however slight the sentiment within them, to adopt common habits, to
live in accord and union, to busy themselves with their dwelling, to
return to it after their journeys, etc., etc. And on this foundation
arise the architecture, the geometry, the order, the foresight, love
of country,--in a word, the republic; all springing, as we have
seen, from the admiration of the observer." There we have our bees
explained in a very different fashion. And if it seem more natural
at first, is it not for the very simple reason that it really
explains almost nothing? I will not allude to the material errors
this chapter contains; I will only ask whether the mere fact of the
bees accepting a common existence, while doing each other the least
possible harm, does not in itself argue a certain intelligence. And
does not this intelligence appear the more remarkable to us as we
more closely examine the fashion in which these "ten thousand
individuals" avoid hurting each other, and end by giving assistance?
And further, is this not the history of ourselves; and does not all
that the angry old naturalist says apply equally to every one of our
human societies? And yet once again: if the bee is indeed to be
credited with none of the feelings or ideas that we have ascribed to
it, shall we not very willingly shift the ground of our wonder? If
we must not admire the bee, we will then admire nature; the moment
must always come when admiration can be no longer denied us, nor
shall there be loss to us through our having retreated, or waited.

However these things may be, and without abandoning this conjecture
of ours, that at least has the advantage of connecting in our mind
certain actions that have evident connection in fact, it is certain
that the bees have far less adoration for the queen herself than for
the infinite future of the race that she represents. They are not
sentimental; and should one of their number return from work so
severely wounded as to be held incapable of further service, they
will ruthlessly expel her from the hive. And yet it cannot be said
that they are altogether incapable of a kind of personal attachment
towards their mother. They will recognise her from among all. Even
when she is old, crippled, and wretched, the sentinels at the door
will never allow another queen to enter the hive, though she be
young and fruitful. It is true that this is one of the fundamental
principles of their polity, and never relaxed except at times of
abundant honey, in favour of some foreign worker who shall be well
laden with food.

When the queen has become completely sterile, the bees will rear a
certain number of royal princesses to fill her place. But what
becomes of the old sovereign? As to this we have no precise
knowledge; but it has happened, at times, that apiarists have found
a magnificent queen, in the flower of her age, on the central comb
of the hive; and in some obscure corner, right at the back, the
gaunt, decrepit "old mistress," as they call her in Normandy. In
such cases it would seem that the bees have to exercise the greatest
care to protect her from the hatred of the vigorous rival who longs
for her death; for queen hates queen so fiercely that two who might
happen to be under the same roof would immediately fly at each
other. It would be pleasant to believe that the bees are thus
providing their ancient sovereign with a humble shelter in a remote
corner of the city, where she may end her days in peace. Here again
we touch one of the thousand enigmas of the waxen city; and it is
once more proved to us that the habits and the policy of the bees
are by no means narrow, or rigidly predetermined; and that their
actions have motives far more complex than we are inclined to


But we are constantly tampering with what they must regard as
immovable laws of nature; constantly placing the bees in a position
that may be compared to that in which we should ourselves be placed
were the laws of space and gravity, of light and heat, to be
suddenly suppressed around us. What are the bees to do when we, by
force or by fraud, introduce a second queen into the city? It is
probable that, in a state of nature, thanks to the sentinels at the
gate, such an event has never occurred since they first came into
the world. But this prodigious conjuncture does not scatter their
wits; they still contrive to reconcile the two principles that they
appear to regard in the light of divine commands. The first is that
of unique maternity, never infringed except in the case of sterility
in the reigning queen, and even then only very exceptionally; the
second is more curious still, and, although never transgressed,
susceptible of what may almost be termed a Judaic evasion. It is the
law that invests the person of a queen, whoever she be, with a sort
of inviolability. It would be a simple matter for the bees to pierce
the intruder with their myriad envenomed stings; she would die on
the spot, and they would merely have to remove the corpse from the
hive. But though this sting is always held ready to strike, though
they make constant use of it in their fights among themselves,_ they
will never draw it against a queen;_ nor will a queen ever draw hers
on a man, an animal, or an ordinary bee. She will never unsheath her
royal weapon--curved, in scimeter fashion, instead of being
straight, like that of the ordinary bee--save only in the case of
her doing battle with an equal: in other words, with a sister queen.

No bee, it would seem, dare take on herself the horror of direct and
bloody regicide. Whenever, therefore, the good order and prosperity
of the republic appear to demand that a queen shall die, they
endeavour to give to her death some semblance of natural decease,
and by infinite subdivision of the crime, to render it almost

They will, therefore, to use the picturesque expression of the
apiarist, "ball" the queenly intruder; in other words, they will
entirely surround her with their innumerable interlaced bodies. They
will thus form a sort of living prison wherein the captive is unable
to move; and in this prison they will keep her for twenty-four
hours, if need be, till the victim die of suffocation or hunger.

But if, at this moment, the legitimate queen draw near, and,
scenting a rival, appear disposed to attack her, the living walls of
the prison will at once fly open; and the bees, forming a circle
around the two enemies, will eagerly watch the strange duel that
will ensue, though remaining strictly impartial, and taking no share
in it. For it is written that against a mother the sting may be
drawn by a mother alone; only she who bears in her flanks close on
two million lives appears to possess the right with one blow to
inflict close on two million deaths.

But if the combat last too long, without any result, if the circular
weapons glide harmlessly over the heavy cuirasses, if one of the
queens appear anxious to make her escape, then, be she the
legitimate sovereign or be she the stranger, she will at once be
seized and lodged in the living prison until such time as she
manifest once more the desire to attack her foe. It is right to add,
however, that the numerous experiments that have been made on this
subject have almost invariably resulted in the victory of the
reigning queen, owing perhaps to the extra courage and ardour she
derives from the knowledge that she is at home, with her subjects
around her, or to the fact that the bees, however impartial while
the fight is in progress, may possibly display some favouritism in
their manner of imprisoning the rivals; for their mother would seem
scarcely to suffer from the confinement, whereas the stranger almost
always emerges in an appreciably bruised and enfeebled condition.


There is one simple experiment which proves the readiness with which
the bees will recognise their queen, and the depth of the attachment
they bear her. Remove her from the hive, and there will soon be
manifest all the phenomena of anguish and distress that I have
described in a preceding chapter. Replace her, a few hours later,
and all her daughters will hasten towards her, offering honey. One
section will form a lane, for her to pass through; others, with head
bent low and abdomen high in the air, will describe before her great
semicircles throbbing with sound; hymning, doubtless, the chant of
welcome their rites dictate for moments of supreme happiness or
solemn respect.

But let it not be imagined that a foreign queen may with impunity be
substituted for the legitimate mother. The bees will at once detect
the imposture; the intruder will be seized, and immediately enclosed
in the terrible, tumultuous prison, whose obstinate walls will be
relieved, as it were, till she dies; for in this particular instance
it hardly ever occurs that the stranger emerges alive.

And here it is curious to note to what diplomacy and elaborate
stratagem man is compelled to resort in order to delude these little
sagacious insects, and bend them to his will. In their unswerving
loyalty, they will accept the most unexpected events with touching
courage, regarding them probably as some new and inevitable fatal
caprice of nature. And, indeed, all this diplomacy notwithstanding,
in the desperate confusion that may follow one of these hazardous
expedients, it is on the admirable good sense of the bee that man
always, and almost empirically, relies; on the inexhaustible
treasure of their marvellous laws and customs, on their love of
peace and order, their devotion to the public weal, and fidelity to
the future; on the adroit strength, the earnest disinterestedness,
of their character, and, above all, on the untiring devotion with
which they fulfil their duty. But the enumeration of such procedures
belongs rather to technical treatises on apiculture, and would take
us too far.*

     *The stranger queen is usually brought into the hive
     enclosed in a little cage, with iron wires, which is hung
     between two combs. The cage has a door made of wax and
     honey, which the workers, their anger over, proceed to gnaw,
     thus freeing the prisoner, whom they will often receive
     without any ill-will. Mr. Simmins, manager of the great
     apiary at Rottingdean, has recently discovered another
     method of introducing a queen, which, being extremely simple
     and almost invariably successful, bids fair to be generally
     adopted by apiarists who value their art. It is the
     behaviour of the queen that usually makes her introduction a
     matter of so great difficulty. She is almost distracted,
     flies to and fro, hides, and generally comports herself as
     an intruder, thus arousing the suspicions of the bees, which
     are soon confirmed by the workers' examination. Mr. Simmins
     at first completely isolates the queen he intends to
     introduce, and lets her fast for half an hour. He then lifts
     a corner of the inner cover of the orphaned hive, and places
     the strange queen on the top of one of the combs. Her former
     isolation having terrified her, she is delighted to find
     herself in the midst of the bees; and being famished she
     eagerly accepts the food they offer her. The workers,
     deceived by her assurance, do not examine her, but probably
     imagine that their old queen has returned, and welcome her
     joyfully. It would seem, therefore, that, contrary to the
     opinion of Huber and all other investigators, the bees are
     not capable of recognising their queen. In any event, the
     two explanations, which are both equally plausible--though
     the truth may lurk, perhaps, in a third, that is not yet
     known to us--only prove once again how complex and obscure
     is the psychology of the bee. And from this, as from all
     questions that deal with life, we can draw one conclusion
     only: that, till better obtain, curiosity still must rule in
     our heart.


As regards this personal affection of which we have spoken, there is
one word more to be said. That such affection exists is certain, but
it is certain also that its memory is exceedingly short-lived. Dare
to replace in her kingdom a mother whose exile has lasted some days,
and her indignant daughters will receive her in such a fashion as to
compel you hastily to snatch her from the deadly imprisonment
reserved for unknown queens. For the bees have had time to transform
a dozen workers' habitations into royal cells, and the future of the
race is no longer in danger. Their affection will increase, or
dwindle, in the degree that the queen represents the future. Thus we
often find, when a virgin queen is performing the perilous ceremony
known as the "nuptial flight," of which I will speak later, that her
subjects are so fearful of losing her that they will all accompany
her on this tragic and distant quest of love. This they will never
do, however, if they be provided with a fragment of comb containing
brood-cells, whence they shall be able to rear other queens. Indeed,
their affection even may turn into fury and hatred should their
sovereign fail in her duty to that sort of abstract divinity that we
should call future society, which the bees would appear to regard
far more seriously than we. It happens, for instance, at times, that
apiarists for various reasons will prevent the queen from joining a
swarm by inserting a trellis into the hive; the nimble and slender
workers will flit through it, unperceiving, but to the poor slave of
love, heavier and more corpulent than her daughters, it offers an
impassable barrier. The bees, when they find that the queen has not
followed, will return to the hive, and scold the unfortunate
prisoner, hustle and ill-treat her, accusing her of laziness,
probably, or suspecting her of feeble mind. On their second
departure, when they find that she still has not followed, her
ill-faith becomes evident to them, and their attacks grow more
serious. And finally, when they shall have gone forth once more, and
still with the same result, they will almost always condemn her, as
being irremediably faithless to her destiny and to the future of the
race, and put her to death in the royal prison.


It is to the future, therefore, that the bees subordinate all
things; and with a foresight, a harmonious co-operation, a skill in
interpreting events and turning them to the best advantage, that
must compel our heartiest admiration, particularly when we remember
in how startling and supernatural a light our recent intervention
must present itself to them. It may be said, perhaps, that in the
last instance we have given, they place a very false construction
upon the queen's inability to follow them. But would our powers of
discernment be so very much subtler, if an intelligence of an order
entirely different from our own, and served by a body so colossal
that its movements were almost as imperceptible as those of a
natural phenomenon, were to divert itself by laying traps of this
kind for us? Has it not taken us thousands of years to invent a
sufficiently plausible explanation for the thunderbolt? There is a
certain feebleness that overwhelms every intellect the moment it
emerges from its own sphere, and is brought face to face with events
not of its own initiation. And, besides, it is quite possible that
if this ordeal of the trellis were to obtain more regularly and
generally among the bees, they would end by detecting the pitfall,
and by taking steps to elude it. They have mastered the intricacies
of the movable comb, of the sections that compel them to store their
surplus honey in little boxes symmetrically piled; and in the case
of the still more extraordinary innovation of foundation wax, where
the cells are indicated only by a slender circumference of wax, they
are able at once to grasp the advantages this new system presents;
they most carefully extend the wax, and thus, without loss of time
or labour, construct perfect cells. So long as the event that
confronts them appear not a snare devised by some cunning and
malicious god, the bees may be trusted always to discover the best,
nay, the only human, solution. Let me cite an instance; an event,
that, though occurring in nature, is still in itself wholly
abnormal. I refer to the manner in which the bees will dispose of a
mouse or a slug that may happen to have found its way into the hive.
The intruder killed, they have to deal with the body, which will
very soon poison their dwelling. If it be impossible for them to
expel or dismember it, they will proceed methodically and
hermetically to enclose it in a veritable sepulchre of propolis and
wax, which will tower fantastically above the ordinary monuments of
the city. In one of my hives last year I discovered three such tombs
side by side, erected with party-walls, like the cells of the comb,
so that no wax should be wasted. These tombs the prudent
grave-diggers had raised over the remains of three snails that a
child had introduced into the hive. As a rule, when dealing with
snails, they will be content to seal up with wax the orifice of the
shell. But in this case the shells were more or less cracked and
broken; and they had considered it simpler, therefore, to bury the
entire snail; and had further contrived, in order that circulation
in the entrance-hall might not be impeded, a number of galleries
exactly proportionate, not to their own girth, but to that of the
males, which are almost twice as large as themselves. Does not this
instance, and the one that follows, warrant our believing that they
would in time discover the cause of the queen's inability to follow
them through the trellis? They have a very nice sense of proportion,
and of the space required for the movement of bodies. In the regions
where the hideous death's-head sphinx, the acherontia atropos,
abounds, they construct little pillars of wax at the entrance of the
hive, so restricting the dimension as to prevent the passage of the
nocturnal marauder's enormous abdomen.


But enough on this point; were I to cite every instance I should
never have done. To return to the queen, whose position in the hive,
and the part that she plays therein, we shall most fitly describe by
declaring her to be the captive heart of the city, and the centre
around which its intelligence revolves. Unique sovereign though she
be, she is also the royal servant, the responsible delegate of love,
and its captive custodian. Her people serve her and venerate her;
but they never forget that it is not to her person that their homage
is given, but to the mission that she fulfils, and the destiny she
represents. It would not be easy for us to find a human republic
whose scheme comprised more of the desires of our planet; or a
democracy that offered an independence more perfect and rational,
combined with a submission more logical and more complete. And
nowhere, surely, should we discover more painful and absolute
sacrifice. Let it not be imagined that I admire this sacrifice to
the extent that I admire its results. It were evidently to be
desired that these results might be obtained at the cost of less
renouncement and suffering. But, the principle once accepted,--and
this is needful, perhaps, in the scheme of our globe,--its
organisation compels our wonder. Whatever the human truth on this
point may be, life, in the hive, is not looked on as a series of
more or less pleasant hours, whereof it is wise that those moments
only should be soured and embittered that are essential for
maintaining existence. The bees regard it as a great common duty,
impartially distributed amongst them all, and tending towards a
future that goes further and further back ever since the world
began. And, for the sake of this future, each one renounces more
than half of her rights and her joys. The queen bids farewell to
freedom, the light of day, and the calyx of flowers; the workers
give five or six years of their life, and shall never know love, or
the joys of maternity. The queen's brain turns to pulp, that the
reproductive organs may profit; in the workers these organs atrophy,
to the benefit of their intelligence. Nor would it be fair to allege
that the will plays no part in all these renouncements. We have seen
that each worker's larva can be transformed into a queen if lodged
and fed on the royal plan; and similarly could each royal larva be
turned into worker if her food were changed and her cell reduced.
These mysterious elections take place every day in the golden shade
of the hive. It is not chance that controls them, but a wisdom whose
deep loyalty, gravity, and unsleeping watchfulness man alone can
betray: a wisdom that makes and unmakes, and keeps careful watch
over all that happens within and without the city. If sudden flowers
abound, or the queen grow old, or less fruitful; if population
increase, and be pressed for room, you then shall find that the bees
will proceed to rear royal cells. But these cells may be destroyed
if the harvest fail, or the hive be enlarged. Often they will be
retained so long as the young queen have not accomplished, or
succeeded in, her marriage flight,--to be at once annihilated when
she returns, trailing behind her, trophy-wise, the infallible sign
of her impregnation. Who shall say where the wisdom resides that can
thus balance present and future, and prefer what is not yet visible
to that which already is seen? Where the anonymous prudence that
selects and abandons, raises and lowers; that of so many workers
makes so many queens, and of so many mothers can make a people of
virgins? We have said elsewhere that it lodged in the "Spirit of the
Hive," but where shall this spirit of the hive be looked for if not
in the assembly of workers? To be convinced of its residence there,
we need not perhaps have studied so closely the habits of this royal
republic. It was enough to place under the microscope, as Dujardin,
Brandt, Girard, Vogel, and other entomologists have done, the little
uncouth and careworn head of the virgin worker side by side with the
somewhat empty skull of the queen and the male's magnificent
cranium, glistening with its twenty-six thousand eyes. Within this
tiny head we should find the workings of the vastest and most
magnificent brain of the hive: the most beautiful and complex, the
most perfect, that, in another order and with a different
organisation, is to be found in nature after that of man. Here
again, as in every quarter where the scheme of the world is known to
us, there where the brain is, are authority and victory, veritable
strength and wisdom. And here again it is an almost invisible atom
of this mysterious substance that organises and subjugates matter,
and is able to create its own little triumphant and permanent place
in the midst of the stupendous, inert forces of nothingness and

     *The brain of the bee, according to the calculation of
     Dujardin, constitutes the 1-174th part of the insect's
     weight, and that of the ant the 1-296th. On the other hand
     the peduncular parts, whose development usually keeps pace
     with the triumphs the intellect achieves over instinct, are
     somewhat less important in the bee than in the ant. It would
     seem to result from these estimates--which are of course
     hypothetical, and deal with a matter that is exceedingly
     obscure--that the intellectual value of the bee and the ant
     must be more or less equal.


And now to return to our swarming hive, where the bees have already
given the signal for departure, without waiting for these
reflections of ours to come to an end. At the moment this signal is
given, it is as though one sudden mad impulse had simultaneously
flung open wide every single gate in the city; and the black throng
issues, or rather pours forth in a double, or treble, or quadruple
jet, as the number of exits may be; in a tense, direct, vibrating,
uninterrupted stream that at once dissolves and melts into space,
where the myriad transparent, furious wings weave a tissue throbbing
with sound. And this for some moments will quiver right over the
hive, with prodigious rustle of gossamer silks that countless
electrified hands might be ceaselessly rending and stitching; it
floats undulating, it trembles and flutters like a veil of gladness
invisible fingers support in the sky, and wave to and fro, from the
flowers to the blue, expecting sublime advent or departure. And at
last one angle declines another is lifted; the radiant mantle unites
its four sunlit corners; and like the wonderful carpet the
fairy-tale speaks of, that flits across space to obey its master's
command, it steers its straight course, bending forward a little as
though to hide in its folds the sacred presence of the future,
towards the willow, the pear-tree, or lime whereon the queen has
alighted; and round her each rhythmical wave comes to rest, as
though on a nail of gold, and suspends its fabric of pearls and of
luminous wings.

And then there is silence once more; and, in an instant, this mighty
tumult, this awful curtain apparently laden with unspeakable menace
and anger, this bewildering golden hail that streamed upon every
object near--all these become merely a great, inoffensive, peaceful
cluster of bees, composed of thousands of little motionless groups,
that patiently wait, as they hang from the branch of a tree, for the
scouts to return who have gone in search of a place of shelter.


This is the first stage of what is known as the "primary swarm" at
whose head the old queen is always to be found. They will settle as
a rule on the shrub or the tree that is nearest the hive; for the
queen, besides being weighed down by her eggs, has dwelt in constant
darkness ever since her marriage-flight, or the swarm of the
previous year; and is naturally reluctant to venture far into space,
having indeed almost forgotten the use of her wings.

The bee-keeper waits till the mass be completely gathered together;
then, having covered his head with a large straw hat (for the most
inoffensive bee will conceive itself caught in a trap if entangled
in hair, and will infallibly use its sting), but, if he be
experienced, wearing neither mask nor veil; having taken the
precaution only of plunging his arms in cold water up to the elbow,
he proceeds to gather the swarm by vigorously shaking the bough from
which the bees depend over an inverted hive. Into this hive the
cluster will fall as heavily as an over-ripe fruit. Or, if the
branch be too stout, he can plunge a spoon into the mass; and
deposit where he will the living spoonfuls, as though he were
ladling out corn. He need have no fear of the bees that are buzzing
around him, settling on his face and hands. The air resounds with
their song of ecstasy, which is different far from their chant of
anger. He need have no fear that the swarm will divide, or grow
fierce, will scatter, or try to escape. This is a day, I repeat,
when a spirit of holiday would seem to animate these mysterious
workers, a spirit of confidence, that apparently nothing can
trouble. They have detached themselves from the wealth they had to
defend, and they no longer recognise their enemies. They become
inoffensive because of their happiness, though why they are happy we
know not, except it be because they are obeying their law. A moment
of such blind happiness is accorded by nature at times to every
living thing, when she seeks to accomplish her end. Nor need we feel
any surprise that here the bees are her dupes; we ourselves, who
have studied her movements these centuries past, and with a brain
more perfect than that of the bee, we too are her dupes, and know
not even yet whether she be benevolent or indifferent, or only
basely cruel.

There where the queen has alighted the swarm will remain; and had
she descended alone into the hive, the bees would have followed, in
long black files, as soon as intelligence had reached them of the
maternal retreat. The majority will hasten to her, with utmost
eagerness; but large numbers will pause for an instant on the
threshold of the unknown abode, and there will describe the circles
of solemn rejoicing with which it is their habit to celebrate happy
events. "They are beating to arms," say the French peasants. And
then the strange home will at once be accepted, and its remotest
corners explored; its position in the apiary, its form, its colour,
are grasped and retained in these thousands of prudent and faithful
little memories. Careful note is taken of the neighbouring
landmarks, the new city is founded, and its place established in the
mind and the heart of all its inhabitants; the walls resound with
the love-hymn of the royal presence, and work begins.


But if the swarm be not gathered by man, its history will not end
here. It will remain suspended on the branch until the return of the
workers, who, acting as scouts, winged quartermasters, as it were,
have at the very first moment of swarming sallied forth in all
directions in search of a lodging. They return one by one, and
render account of their mission; and as it is manifestly impossible
for us to fathom the thought of the bees, we can only interpret in
human fashion the spectacle that they present. We may regard it as
probable, therefore, that most careful attention is given to the
reports of the various scouts. One of them it may be, dwells on the
advantage of some hollow tree it has seen; another is in favour of a
crevice in a ruinous wall, of a cavity in a grotto, or an abandoned
burrow. The assembly often will pause and deliberate until the
following morning. Then at last the choice is made, and approved by
all. At a given moment the entire mass stirs, disunites, sets in
motion, and then, in one sustained and impetuous flight, that this
time knows no obstacle, it will steer its straight course, over
hedges and cornfields, over haystack and lake, over river and
village, to its determined and always distant goal. It is rarely
indeed that this second stage can be followed by man. The swarm
returns to nature; and we lose the track of its destiny.



LET us rather consider the proceedings of the swarm the apiarist
shall have gathered into his hive. And first of all let us not be
forgetful of the sacrifice these fifty thousand virgins have made,
who, as Ronsard sings,--

    "In a little body bear so true a heart,--"

and let us, yet once again, admire the courage with which they begin
life anew in the desert whereon they have fallen. They have
forgotten the splendour and wealth of their native city, where
existence had been so admirably organised and certain, where the
essence of every flower reminiscent of sunshine had enabled them to
smile at the menace of winter. There, asleep in the depths of their
cradles, they have left thousands and thousands of daughters, whom
they never again will see. They have abandoned, not only the
enormous treasure of pollen and propolis they had gathered together,
but also more than 120 pounds of honey; a quantity representing more
than twelve times the entire weight of the population, and close on
600,000 times that of the individual bee. To man this would mean
42,000 tons of provisions, a vast fleet of mighty ships laden with
nourishment more precious than any known to us; for to the bee honey
is a kind of liquid life, a species of chyle that is at once
assimilated, with almost no waste whatever.

Here, in the new abode, there is nothing; not a drop of honey, not a
morsel of wax; neither guiding-mark nor point of support. There is
only the dreary emptiness of an enormous monument that has nothing
but sides and roof. Within the smooth and rounded walls there only
is darkness; and the enormous arch above rears itself over
nothingness. But useless regrets are unknown to the bee; or in any
event it does not allow them to hinder its action. Far from being
cast down by an ordeal before which every other courage would
succumb, it displays greater ardour than ever. Scarcely has the hive
been set in its place, or the disorder allayed that ensued on the
bees' tumultuous fall, when we behold the clearest, most unexpected
division in that entangled mass. The greater portion, forming in
solid columns, like an army obeying a definite order, will proceed
to climb the vertical walls of the hive. The cupola reached, the
first to arrive will cling with the claws of their anterior legs,
those that follow hang on to the first, and so in succession, until
long chains have been formed that serve as a bridge to the crowd
that rises and rises. And, by slow degrees, these chains, as their
number increases, supporting each other and incessantly
interweaving, become garlands which, in their turn, the
uninterrupted and constant ascension transforms into a thick,
triangular curtain, or rather a kind of compact and inverted cone,
whose apex attains the summit of the cupola, while its widening base
descends to a half, or two-thirds, of the entire height of the hive.
And then, the last bee that an inward voice has impelled to form
part of this group having added itself to the curtain suspended in
darkness, the ascension ceases; all movement slowly dies away in the
dome; and, for long hours, this strange inverted cone will wait, in
a silence that almost seems awful, in a stillness one might regard
as religious, for the mystery of wax to appear.

In the meantime the rest of the bees--those, that is, that remained
down below in the hive--have shown not the slightest desire to join
the others aloft, and pay no heed to the formation of the marvellous
curtain on whose folds a magical gift is soon to descend. They are
satisfied to examine the edifice and undertake the necessary
labours. They carefully sweep the floor, and remove, one by one,
twigs, grains of sand, and dead leaves; for the bees are almost
fanatically cleanly, and when, in the depths of winter, severe
frosts retard too long what apiarists term their "flight of
cleanliness," rather than sully the hive they will perish by
thousands of a terrible bowel-disease. The males alone are incurably
careless, and will impudently bestrew the surface of the comb with
their droppings, which the workers are obliged to sweep as they
hasten behind them.

The cleaning over, the bees of the profane group that form no part
of the cone suspended in a sort of ecstasy, set to work minutely to
survey the lower circumference of the common dwelling. Every crevice
is passed in review, and filled, covered over with propolis; and the
varnishing of the walls is begun, from top to bottom. Guards are
appointed to take their stand at the gate; and very soon a certain
number of workers will go to the fields and return with their burden
of pollen.


Before raising the folds of the mysterious curtain beneath whose
shelter are laid the veritable foundations of the home, let us
endeavour to form some conception of the sureness of vision, the
accurate calculation and industry our little people of emigrants
will be called to display in order to adapt this new dwelling to
their requirements. In the void round about them they must lay the
plans for their city, and logically mark out the site of the
edifices that must be erected as economically and quickly as
possible, for the queen, eager to lay, already is scattering her
eggs on the ground. And in this labyrinth of complicated buildings,
so far existing only in imagination, laws of ventilation must be
considered, of stability, solidity; resistance of the wax must not
be lost sight of, or the nature of the food to be stored, or the
habits of the queen; ready access must be contrived to all parts,
and careful attention be given to the distribution of stores and
houses, passages and streets,--this however is in some measure
pre-established, the plan already arrived at being organically the
best,--and there are countless problems besides, whose enumeration
would take too long.

Now, the form of the hive that man offers to the bee knows infinite
variety, from the hollow tree or earthenware vessel still obtaining
in Asia and Africa, and the familiar bell-shaped constructions of
straw which we find in our farmers' kitchen-gardens or beneath their
windows, lost beneath masses of sunflowers, phlox, and hollyhock, to
what may really be termed the factory of the model apiarist of
today. An edifice, this, that can contain more than three hundred
pounds of honey, in three or four stories of superposed combs
enclosed in a frame which permits of their being removed and
handled, of the harvest being extracted through centrifugal force by
means of a turbine, and of their being then restored to their place
like a book in a well-ordered library.

And one fine day the industry or caprice of man will install a
docile swarm in one of these disconcerting abodes. And there the
little insect is expected to learn its bearings, to find its way, to
establish its home; to modify the seemingly unchangeable plans
dictated by the nature of things. In this unfamiliar place it is
required to determine the site of the winter storehouses, that must
not extend beyond the zone of heat that issues from the half-numbed
inhabitants; it must divine the exact point where the brood-cells
shall concentrate, under penalty of disaster should these be too
high or too low, too near to or far from the door. The swarm, it may
be, has just left the trunk of a fallen tree, containing one long,
narrow, depressed, horizontal gallery; and it finds itself now in a
tower-shaped edifice, whose roof is lost in gloom. Or, to take a
case that is more usual, perhaps, and one that will give some idea
of the surprise habitually in store for the bees: after having lived
for centuries past beneath the straw dome of our village hives, they
are suddenly transplanted to a species of mighty cupboard, or chest,
three or four times as large as the place of their birth; and
installed in the midst of a confused scaffolding of superposed
frames, some running parallel to the entrance and some
perpendicular; the whole forming a bewildering network that obscures
the surfaces of their dwelling.

And yet, for all this, there exists not a single instance of a swarm
refusing its duty, or allowing itself to be baffled or discouraged
by the strangeness of its surroundings, except only in the case of
the new dwelling being absolutely uninhabitable, or impregnated with
evil odours. And even then the bees will not be disheartened or
bewildered; even then they will not abandon their mission. The swarm
will simply forsake the inhospitable abode, to seek better fortune
some little distance away. And similarly it can never be said of
them that they can be induced to undertake any illogical or foolish
task. Their common-sense has never been known to fail them; they
have never, at a loss for definite decision, erected at haphazard
structures of a wild or heterogeneous nature. Though you place the
swarm in a sphere, a cube, or a pyramid, in an oval or polygonal
basket, you will find, on visiting the bees a few days later, that
if this strange assembly of little independent intellects has
accepted the new abode, they will at once, and unhesitatingly and
unanimously have known how to select the most favourable, often
humanly speaking the only possible spot in this absurd habitation,
in pursuance of a method whose principles may appear inflexible, but
whose results are strikingly vivid.

When installed in one of the huge factories, bristling with frames,
that we mentioned just now, these frames will interest them only to
the extent in which they provide them with a basis or point of
departure for their combs; and they very naturally pay not the
slightest heed to the desires or intentions of man. But if the
apiarist have taken the precaution of surrounding the upper lath of
some of these frames with a narrow fillet of wax, they will be quick
to perceive the advantage this tempting offer presents, and will
carefully extract the fillet, using their own wax as solder, and
will prolong the comb in accordance with the indicated plan.
Similarly--and the case is frequent in modern apiculture--if all the
frames of the hive into which the bees have been gathered be covered
from top to bottom with leaves of foundation-wax, they will not
waste time in erecting buildings across or beside these, or in
producing useless wax, but, finding that the work is already half
finished, they will be satisfied to deepen and lengthen each of the
cells designed in the leaf, carefully rectifying these where there
is the slightest deviation from the strictest vertical. Proceeding
in this fashion, therefore, they will possess in a week a city as
luxurious and well-constructed as the one they have quitted;
whereas, had they been thrown on their own resources, it would have
taken them two or three months to construct so great a profusion of
dwellings and storehouses of shining wax.


This power of appropriation may well be considered to overstep the
limit of instinct; and indeed there can be nothing more arbitrary
than the distinction we draw between instinct and intelligence
properly so-called. Sir John Lubbock, whose observations on ants,
bees, and wasps are so interesting and so personal, is reluctant to
credit the bee, from the moment it forsakes the routine of its
habitual labour, with any power of discernment or reasoning. This
attitude of his may be due in some measure to an unconscious bias in
favour of the ants, whose ways he has more specially noted; for the
entomologist is always inclined to regard that insect as the more
intelligent to which he has more particularly devoted himself, and
we have to be on our guard against this little personal
predilection. As a proof of his theory, Sir John cites as an
instance an experiment within the reach of all. If you place in a
bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the
bottle down horizontally, with its base to the window, you will find
that the bees will persist, till they die of exhaustion or hunger,
in their endeavour to discover an issue through the glass; while the
flies, in less than two minutes, will all have sallied forth through
the neck on the opposite side. From this Sir John Lubbock concludes
that the intelligence of the bee is exceedingly limited, and that
the fly shows far greater skill in extricating itself from a
difficulty, and finding its way. This conclusion, however, would not
seem altogether flawless. Turn the transparent sphere twenty times,
if you will, holding now the base, now the neck, to the window, and
you will find that the bees will turn twenty times with it, so as
always to face the light. It is their love of the light, it is their
very intelligence, that is their undoing in this experiment of the
English savant. They evidently imagine that the issue from every
prison must be there where the light shines clearest; and they act
in accordance, and persist in too logical action. To them glass is a
supernatural mystery they never have met with in nature; they have
had no experience of this suddenly impenetrable atmosphere; and, the
greater their intelligence, the more inadmissible, more
incomprehensible, will the strange obstacle appear. Whereas the
featherbrained flies, careless of logic as of the enigma of crystal,
disregarding the call of the light, flutter wildly hither and
thither, and, meeting here the good fortune that often waits on the
simple, who find salvation there where the wiser will perish,
necessarily end by discovering the friendly opening that restores
their liberty to them.

The same naturalist cites yet another proof of the bees' lack of
intelligence, and discovers it in the following quotation from the
great American apiarist, the venerable and paternal Langstroth:--

"As the fly was not intended to banquet on blossoms, but on
substances in which it might easily be drowned, it cautiously
alights on the edge of any vessel containing liquid food, and warily
helps itself; while the poor bee, plunging in headlong, speedily
perishes. The sad fate of their unfortunate companions does not in
the least deter others who approach the tempting lure from madly
alighting on the bodies of the dying and the dead, to share the same
miserable end. No one can understand the extent of their infatuation
until he has seen a confectioner's shop assailed by myriads of
hungry bees. I have seen thousands strained out from the syrups in
which they had perished; thousands more alighting even on the
boiling sweets; the floors covered and windows darkened with bees,
some crawling, others flying, and others still so completely
besmeared as to be able neither to crawl nor to fly--not one in ten
able to carry home its ill-gotten spoils, and yet the air filled
with new hosts of thoughtless comers."

This, however, seems to me no more conclusive than might be the
spectacle of a battlefield, or of the ravages of alcoholism, to a
superhuman observer bent on establishing the limits of human
understanding. Indeed, less so, perhaps; for the situation of the
bee, when compared with our own, is strange in this world. It was
intended to live in the midst of an indifferent and unconscious
nature, and not by the side of an extraordinary being who is forever
disturbing the most constant laws, and producing grandiose,
inexplicable phenomena. In the natural order of things, in the
monotonous life of the forest, the madness Langstroth describes
would be possible only were some accident suddenly to destroy a hive
full of honey. But in this case, even, there would be no fatal
glass, no boiling sugar or cloying syrup; no death or danger,
therefore, other than that to which every animal is exposed while
seeking its prey.

Should we be more successful than they in preserving our presence of
mind if some strange power were at every step to ensnare our reason?
Let us not be too hasty in condemning the bees for the folly whereof
we are the authors, or in deriding their intellect, which is as
poorly equipped to foil our artifices as our own would be to foil
those of some superior creature unknown to us to-day, but on that
account not impossible. None such being known at present, we
conclude that we stand on the topmost pinnacle of life on this
earth; but this belief, after all, is by no means infallible. I am
not assuming that when our actions are unreasonable, or
contemptible, we merely fall into the snares that such a creature
has laid; though it is not inconceivable that this should one day be
proved true. On the other hand, it cannot be wise to deny
intelligence to the bee because it has not yet succeeded in
distinguishing us from the great ape or the bear. It is certain that
there are, in us and about us, influences and powers no less
dissimilar whose distinction escapes us as readily.

And finally, to end this apology, wherein I seem somewhat to have
fallen into the error I laid to Sir John Lubbock's charge, does not
the capacity for folly so great in itself argue intelligence? For
thus it is ever in the uncertain domain of the intellect, apparently
the most vacillating and precarious condition of matter. The same
light that falls on the intellect falls also on passion, whereof
none can tell whether it be the smoke of the flame or the wick. In
the case above it has not been mere animal desire to gorge
themselves with honey that has urged on the bees. They could do this
at their leisure in the store-rooms at home. Watch them in an
analogous circumstance; follow them; you will see that, as soon as
their sac is filled, they will return to the hive and add their
spoil to the general store; and visit the marvellous vintage, and
leave it, perhaps thirty times in an hour. Their admirable labours,
therefore, are inspired by a single desire: zeal to bring as much
wealth as they can to the home of their sisters, which is also the
home of the future. When we discover a cause as disinterested for
the follies of men, we are apt to call them by another name.


However, the whole truth must be told. In the midst of the marvels
of their industry, their policy, their sacrifice, one thing exists
that must always check and weaken our admiration; and this is the
indifference with which they regard the misfortunes or death of
their comrades. There is a strange duality in the character of the
bee. In the heart of the hive all help and love each other. They are
as united as the good thoughts that dwell in the same soul. Wound
one of them, and a thousand will sacrifice themselves to avenge its
injury. But outside the hive they no longer recognise each other.
Mutilate them, crush them,--or rather, do nothing of the kind; it
would be a useless cruelty, for the fact is established beyond any
doubt,--but were you to mutilate, or crush, on a piece of comb
placed a few steps from their dwelling, twenty or thirty bees that
have all issued from the same hive, those you have left untouched
will not even turn their heads. With their tongue, fantastic as a
Chinese weapon, they will tranquilly continue to absorb the liquid
they hold more precious than life, heedless of the agony whose last
gestures almost are touching them, of the cries of distress that
arise all around. And when the comb is empty, so great is their
anxiety that nothing shall be lost, that their eagerness to gather
the honey which clings to the victims will induce them tranquilly to
climb over dead and dying, unmoved by the presence of the first and
never dreaming of helping the others. In this case, therefore, they
have no notion of the danger they run, seeing that they are wholly
untroubled by the death that is scattered about them, and they have
not the slightest sense of solidarity or pity. As regards the
danger, the explanation lies ready to hand; the bees know not the
meaning of fear, and, with the exception only of smoke, are afraid
of nothing in the world. Outside the hive, they display extreme
condescension and forbearance. They will avoid whatever disturbs
them, and affect to ignore its existence, so long as it come not too
close; as though aware that this universe belongs to all, that each
one has his place there, and must needs be discreet and peaceful.
But beneath this indulgence is quietly hidden a heart so sure of
itself that it never dreams of protesting. If they are threatened,
they will alter their course, but never attempt to escape. In the
hive, however, they will not confine themselves to this passive
ignoring of peril. They will spring with incredible fury on any
living thing, ant or lion or man, that dares to profane the sacred
ark. This we may term anger, ridiculous obstinacy, or heroism,
according as our mind be disposed.

But of their want of solidarity outside the hive, and even of
sympathy within it, I can find nothing to say. Are we to believe
that each form of intellect possesses its own strange limitation,
and that the tiny flame which with so much difficulty at last burns
its way through inert matter and issues forth from the brain, is
still so uncertain that if it illumine one point more strongly the
others are forced into blacker darkness? Here we find that the bees
(or nature acting within them) have organised work in common, the
love and cult of the future, in a manner more perfect than can
elsewhere be discovered. Is it for this reason that they have lost
sight of all the rest? They give their love to what lies ahead of
them; we bestow ours on what is around. And we who love here,
perhaps, have no love left for what is beyond. Nothing varies so
much as the direction of pity or charity. We ourselves should
formerly have been far less shocked than we are to-day at the
insensibility of the bees; and to many an ancient people such
conduct would not have seemed blameworthy. And further, can we tell
how many of the things that we do would shock a being who might be
watching us as we watch the bees?



LET us now, in order to form a clearer conception of the bees'
intellectual power, proceed to consider their methods of
inter-communication. There can be no doubting that they understand
each other; and indeed it were surely impossible for a republic so
considerable, wherein the labours are so varied and so marvellously
combined, to subsist amid the silence and spiritual isolation of so
many thousand creatures. They must be able, therefore, to give
expression to thoughts and feelings, by means either of a phonetic
vocabulary or more probably of some kind of tactile language or
magnetic intuition, corresponding perhaps to senses and properties
of matter wholly unknown to ourselves. And such intuition well might
lodge in the mysterious antennae--containing, in the case of the
workers, according to Cheshire's calculation, twelve thousand
tactile hairs and five thousand "smell-hollows," wherewith they
probe and fathom the darkness. For the mutual understanding of the
bees is not confined to their habitual labours; the extraordinary
also has a name and place in their language; as is proved by the
manner in which news, good or bad, normal or supernatural, will at
once spread in the hive; the loss or return of the mother, for
instance, the entrance of an enemy, the intrusion of a strange
queen, the approach of a band of marauders, the discovery of
treasure, etc. And so characteristic is their attitude, so
essentially different their murmur at each of these special events,
that the experienced apiarist can without difficulty tell what is
troubling the crowd that moves distractedly to and fro in the

If you desire a more definite proof, you have but to watch a bee
that shall just have discovered a few drops of honey on your
window-sill or the corner of your table. She will immediately gorge
herself with it; and so eagerly, that you will have time, without
fear of disturbing her, to mark her tiny belt with a touch of paint.
But this gluttony of hers is all on the surface; the honey will not
pass into the stomach proper, into what we might call her personal
stomach, but remains in the sac, the first stomach,--that of the
community, if one may so express it. This reservoir full, the bee
will depart, but not with the free and thoughtless motion of the fly
or butterfly; she, on the contrary, will for some moments fly
backwards, hovering eagerly about the table or window, with her head
turned toward the room.

She is reconnoitring, fixing in her memory the exact position of the
treasure. Thereupon she will go to the hive, disgorge her plunder
into one of the provision-cells, and in three or four minutes
return, and resume operations at the providential window. And thus,
while the honey lasts, will she come and go, at intervals of every
five minutes, till evening, if need be; without interruption or
rest; pursuing her regular journeys from the hive to the window,
from the window back to the hive.


Many of those who have written on bees have thought fit to adorn the
truth; I myself have no such desire. For studies of this description
to possess any interest, it is essential that they should remain
absolutely sincere. Had the conclusion been forced upon me that bees
are incapable of communicating to each other news of an event
occurring outside the hive, I should, I imagine, as a set-off
against the slight disappointment this discovery would have
entailed, have derived some degree of satisfaction in recognising
once more that man, after all, is the only truly intelligent being
who inhabits our globe. And there comes too a period of life when we
have more joy in saying the thing that is true than in saying the
thing that merely is wonderful. Here as in every case the principle
holds that, should the naked truth appear at the moment less
interesting, less great and noble than the imaginary embellishment
it lies in our power to bestow, the fault must rest with ourselves
who still are unable to perceive the astonishing relation in which
this truth always must stand to our being, and to universal law; and
in that case it is not the truth, but our intellect, that needs
embellishment and ennoblement.

I will frankly confess, therefore, that the marked bee often returns
alone. Shall we believe that in bees there exists the same
difference of character as in men; that of them too some are
gossips, and others prone to silence? A friend who stood by and
watched my experiment, declared that it was evidently mere
selfishness or vanity that caused so many of the bees to refrain
from revealing the source of their wealth, and from sharing with
others the glory of an achievement that must seem miraculous to the
hive. These were sad vices indeed, which give not forth the sweet
odour, so fragrant and loyal, that springs from the home of the many
thousand sisters. But, whatever the cause, it often will also happen
that the bee whom fortune has favoured will return to the honey
accompanied by two or three friends. I am aware that Sir John
Lubbock, in the appendix to his book on "Ants, Bees, and Wasps,"
records the results of his investigations in long and minute tables;
and from these we are led to infer that it is a matter of rarest
occurrence for a single bee to follow the one who has made the
discovery. The learned naturalist does not name the race of bees
which he selected for his experiments, or tell us whether the
conditions were especially unfavourable. As for myself I only can
say that my own tables, compiled with great care,--and every
possible precaution having been taken that the bees should not be
directly attracted by the odour of the honey,--establish that on an
average one bee will bring others four times out of ten.

I even one day came across an extraordinary little Italian bee,
whose belt I had marked with a touch of blue paint. In her second
trip she brought two of her sisters, whom I imprisoned, without
interfering with her. She departed once more, and this time returned
with three friends, whom I again confined, and so till the end of
the afternoon, when, counting my prisoners, I found that she had
told the news to no less than eighteen bees.

In fact you will find, if you make this experiment yourself, that
communication, if not general, at least is frequent. The possession
of this faculty is so well known to American bee-hunters that they
trade upon it when engaged in searching for nests. Mr. Josiah Emery
remarks on this head (quoted by Romanes in his "Intellect of Animals"):
"Going to a field or wood at a distance from tame bees with
their box of honey, they gather up from the flowers and imprison one
or more bees, and after they have become sufficiently gorged, let
them out to return to their home with their easily gotten load.
Waiting patiently a longer or shorter time, according to the
distance of the bee-tree, the hunter scarcely ever fails to see the
bee or bees return accompanied by other bees, which are in like
manner imprisoned till they in turn are filled; then one or more are
let out at places distant from each other, and the direction in
which the bee flies noted; and thus, by a kind of triangulation, the
position of the bee-tree proximately ascertained."


You will notice too in your experiments that the friends who appear
to obey the behests of good fortune do not always fly together, and
that there will often be an interval of several seconds between the
different arrivals. As regards these communications, therefore, we
must ask ourselves the question that Sir John Lubbock has solved as
far as the ants are concerned.

Do the comrades who flock to the treasure only follow the bee that
first made the discovery, or have they been sent on by her, and do
they find it through following her indications, her description of
the place where it lies? Between these two hypotheses, that refer
directly to the extent and working of the bee's intellect, there is
obviously an enormous difference. The English savant has succeeded,
by means of an elaborate and ingenious arrangement of gangways,
corridors, moats full of water, and flying bridges, in establishing
that the ants in such cases do no more than follow in the track of
the pioneering insect. With ants, that can be made to pass where one
will, such experiments are possible; but for the bee, whose wings
throw every avenue open, some other expedient must of necessity be
contrived. I imagined the following, which, though it gave no
definite result, might yet, under more favourable conditions, and if
organised more carefully, give rise to definite and satisfactory

My study in the country is on the first floor, above a somewhat
lofty room; sufficiently high, therefore, to be out of the ordinary
range of the bees' flight, except at times when the chestnuts and
lime trees are in bloom. And for more than a week before I started
this experiment I had kept on my table an open comb of honey,
without the perfume having attracted, or induced the visit of, a
single bee. Then I went to a glass hive that was close to the house,
took an Italian bee, brought her to my study, set her on the comb,
and marked her while she was feeding.

When satisfied, she flew away and returned to the hive. I followed,
saw her pass over the surface of the crowd, plunge her head into an
empty cell, disgorge her honey, and prepare to set forth again. At
the door of the hive I had placed a glass box, divided by a trap
into two compartments. The bee flew into this box; and as she was
alone, and no other bee seemed to accompany or follow her, I
imprisoned her and left her there. I then repeated the experiment on
twenty different bees in succession. When the marked bee reappeared
alone, I imprisoned her as I had imprisoned the first. But eight of
them came to the threshold of the hive and entered the box
accompanied by two or three friends. By means of the trap I was able
to separate the marked bee from her companions, and to keep her a
prisoner in the first compartment. Then, having marked her
companions with a different colour, I threw open the second
compartment and set them at liberty, myself returning quickly to my
study to await their arrival. Now it is evident that if a verbal or
magnetic communication had passed, indicating the place, describing
the way, etc., a certain number of the bees, having been furnished
with this information, should have found their way to my room. I am
compelled to admit that there came but a single one. Was this mere
chance, or had she followed instructions received? The experiment
was insufficient, but circumstances prevented me from carrying it
further. I released the "baited" bees, and my study soon was
besieged by the buzzing crowd to whom they had taught the way to the

We need not concern ourselves with this incomplete attempt of mine,
for many other curious traits compel us to recognise the existence
among the bees of spiritual communications that go beyond a mere
"yes" or "no," and that are manifest in cases where mere example or
gesture would not be sufficient. Of such, for instance, are the
remarkable harmony of their work in the hive, the extraordinary
division of labour, the regularity with which one worker will take
the place of another, etc. I have often marked bees that went
foraging in the morning, and found that, in the afternoon, unless
flowers were specially abundant, they would be engaged in heating
and fanning the brood-cells, or perhaps would form part of the
mysterious, motionless curtain in whose midst the wax-makers and
sculptors would be at work. Similarly I have noticed that workers
whom I have seen gathering pollen for the whole of one day, will
bring no pollen back on the morrow, but will concern themselves
exclusively with the search for nectar, and vice-versa.


And further, we might mention what M. Georges de Layens, the
celebrated French apiarist, terms the "Distribution of Bees over
Melliferous Plants." Day after day, at the first hour of sunrise,
the explorers of the dawn return, and the hive awakes to receive the
good news of the earth. "The lime trees are blossoming to-day on the
banks of the canal." "The grass by the roadside is gay with white
clover." "The sage and the lotus are about to open." "The
mignonette, the lilies are overflowing with pollen." Whereupon the
bees must organise quickly, and arrange to divide the work. Five
thousand of the sturdiest will sully forth to the lime trees, while
three thousand juniors go and refresh the white clover. Those who
yesterday were absorbing nectar from the corollas will to-day repose
their tongue and the glands of their sac, and gather red pollen from
the mignonette, or yellow pollen from the tall lilies; for never
shall you see a bee collecting or mixing pollen of a different
colour or species; and indeed one of the chief pre-occupations of
the hive is the methodical bestowal of these pollens in the
store-rooms, in strict accordance with their origin and colour. Thus
does the hidden genius issue its commands. The workers immediately
sally forth, in long black files, whereof each one will fly straight
to its allotted task. "The bees," says De Layens, "would seem to be
perfectly informed as to the locality, the relative melliferous
value, and the distance of every melliferous plant within a certain
radius from the hive.

"If we carefully note the different directions in which these
foragers fly, and observe in detail the harvest they gather from the
various plants around, we shall find that the workers distribute
themselves over the flowers in proportion not only to the numbers of
flowers of one species, but also to their melliferous value. Nay,
more--they make daily calculations as to the means of obtaining the
greatest possible wealth of saccharine liquid. In the spring, for
instance, after the willows have bloomed, when the fields still are
bare, and the first flowers of the woods are the one resource of the
bees, we shall see them eagerly visiting gorse and violets,
lungworts and anemones. But, a few days later, when fields of
cabbage and colza begin to flower in sufficient abundance, we shall
find that the bees will almost entirely forsake the plants in the
woods, though these be still in full blossom, and will confine their
visits to the flowers of cabbage and colza alone. In this fashion
they regulate, day by day, their distribution over the plants, so as
to collect the greatest value of saccharine liquid in the least
possible time.

"It may fairly be claimed, therefore, for the colony of bees that,
in its harvesting labours no less than in its internal economy, it
is able to establish a rational distribution of the number of
workers without ever disturbing the principle of the division of


But what have we to do, some will ask, with the intelligence of the
bees? What concern is it of ours whether this be a little less or a
little more? Why weigh, with such infinite care, a minute fragment
of almost invisible matter, as though it were a fluid whereon
depended the destiny of man? I hold, and exaggerate nothing, that
our interest herein is of the most considerable. The discovery of a
sign of true intellect outside ourselves procures us something of
the emotion Robinson Crusoe felt when he saw the imprint of a human
foot on the sandy beach of his island. We seem less solitary than we
had believed. And indeed, in our endeavour to understand the
intellect of the bees, we are studying in them that which is most
precious in our own substance: an atom of the extraordinary matter
which possesses, wherever it attach itself, the magnificent power of
transfiguring blind necessity, of organising, embellishing, and
multiplying life; and, most striking of all, of holding in suspense
the obstinate force of death, and the mighty, irresponsible wave
that wraps almost all that exists in an eternal unconsciousness.

Were we sole possessors of the particle of matter that, when
maintained in a special condition of flower or incandescence, we
term the intellect, we should to some extent be entitled to look on
ourselves as privileged beings, and to imagine that in us nature
achieved some kind of aim; but here we discover, in the hymenoptera,
an entire category of beings in whom a more or less identical aim is
achieved. And this fact, though it decide nothing perhaps, still
holds an honourable place in the mass of tiny facts that help to
throw light on our position in this world. It affords even, if
considered from a certain point of view, a fresh proof of the most
enigmatic part of our being; for the superpositions of destinies
that we find in the hive are surveyed by us from an eminence loftier
than any we can attain for the contemplation of the destinies of
man. There we see before us, in miniature, the large and simple
lines that in our own disproportionate sphere we never have the
occasion to disentangle and follow to the end. Spirit and matter are
there, the race and the individual, evolution and permanence, life
and death, the past and the future; all gathered together in a
retreat that our hand can lift and one look of our eye embrace. And
may we not reasonably ask ourselves whether the mere size of a body,
and the room that it fills in time and space, can modify to the
extent we imagine the secret idea of nature; the idea that we try to
discover in the little history of the hive, which in a few days
already is ancient, no less than in the great history of man, of
whom three generations overlap a long century?


Let us go on, then, with the story of our hive; let us take it up
where we left it; and raise, as high as we may, a fold of the
festooned curtain in whose midst a strange sweat, white as snow and
airier than the down of a wing, is beginning to break over the
swarm. For the wax that is now being born is not like the wax that
we know; it is immaculate, it has no weight; seeming truly to be the
soul of the honey, that itself is the spirit of flowers. And this
motionless incantation has called it forth that it may serve us,
later--in memory of its origin, doubtless, wherein it is one with
the azure sky, and heavy with perfumes of magnificence and
purity--as the fragrant light of the last of our altars.


To follow the various phases of the secretion and employment of wax
by a swarm that is beginning to build, is a matter of very great
difficulty. All comes to pass in the blackest depths of the crowd,
whose agglomeration, growing denser and denser, produces the
temperature needful for this exudation, which is the privilege of
the youngest bees. Huber, who was the first to study these
phenomena, bringing incredible patience to bear and exposing himself
at times to very serious danger, devotes to them more than two
hundred and fifty pages; which, though of considerable interest, are
necessarily somewhat confused. But I am not treating this subject
technically; and while referring when necessary to Huber's admirable
studies, I shall confine myself generally to relating what is patent
to any one who may gather a swarm into a glass hive.

We have to admit, first of all, that we know not yet by what process
of alchemy the honey transforms itself into wax in the enigmatic
bodies of our suspended bees. We can only say that they will remain
thus suspended for a period extending from eighteen to twenty-four
hours, in a temperature so high that one might almost believe that a
fire was burning in the hollow of the hive; and then white and
transparent scales will appear at the opening of four little pockets
that every bee has underneath its abdomen.

When the bodies of most of those who form the inverted cone have
thus been adorned with ivory tablets, we shall see one of the bees,
as though suddenly inspired, abruptly detach herself from the mass,
and climb over the backs of the passive crowd till she reach the
inner pinnacle of the cupola. To this she will fix herself solidly,
dislodging, with repeated blows of her head, such of her neighbours
as may seem to hamper her movements. Then, with her mouth and claws,
she will seize one of the eight scales that hang from her abdomen,
and at once proceed to clip it and plane it, extend it, knead it
with her saliva, bend it and flatten it, roll it and straighten it,
with the skill of a carpenter handling a pliable panel. When at last
the substance, thus treated, appears to her to possess the required
dimensions and consistency, she will attach it to the highest point
of the dome, thus laying the first, or rather the keystone of the
new town; for we have here an inverted city, hanging down from the
sky, and not rising from the bosom of earth like a city of men.

To this keystone, depending in the void, she will add other
fragments of wax that she takes in succession from beneath her rings
of horn; and finally, with one last lick of the tongue, one last
wave of antennae, she will go as suddenly as she came, and disappear
in the crowd. Another will at once take her place, continue the work
at the point where the first one has left it, add on her own, change
and adjust whatever may seem to offend the ideal plan of the tribe,
then vanish in her turn, to be succeeded by a third, a fourth, and a
fifth, all appearing unexpectedly, suddenly, one after the other,
none completing the work, but each bringing her share to the task in
which all combine.


A small block of wax, formless as yet, hangs down from the top of
the vault. So soon as its thickness may be deemed sufficient, we
shall see another bee emerge from the mass, her physical appearance
differing appreciably from that of the foundresses who preceded her.
And her manner displays such settled conviction, her movements are
followed so eagerly by all the crowd, that we almost might fancy
that some illustrious engineer had been summoned to trace in the
void the site of the first cell of all, from which every other must
mathematically depend. This bee belongs to the sculptor or carver
class of workers; she produces no wax herself and is content to deal
with the materials others provide. She locates the first cell,
scoops into the block for an instant, lays the wax she has removed
from the cavity on the borders around it; and then, like the
foundresses, abruptly departs and abandons her model. Her place is
taken at once by an impatient worker, who continues the task that a
third will finish, while others close by are attacking the rest of
the surface and the opposite side of the wall; each one obeying the
general law of interrupted and successive labour, as though it were
an inherent principle of the hive that the pride of toil should be
distributed, and every achievement be anonymous and common to all,
that it might thereby become more fraternal.


The outline of the nascent comb may soon be divined. In form it will
still be lenticular, for the little prismatic tubes that compose it
are unequal in length, and diminish in proportion as they recede
from the centre to the extremities. In thickness and appearance at
present it more or less resembles a human tongue whose sides might
be formed of hexagonal cells, contiguous, and placed back to back.

The first cells having been built, the foundresses proceed to add a
second block of wax to the roof; and so in gradation a third and a
fourth. These blocks follow each other at regular intervals so
nicely calculated that when, at a much later period, the comb shall
be fully developed, there will be ample space for the bees to move
between its parallel walls.

Their plan must therefore embrace the final thickness of every comb,
which will be from eighty-eight to ninety-two hundredths of an inch,
and at the same time the width of the avenues between, which must be
about half an inch, or in other words twice the height of a bee,
since there must be room to pass back to back between the combs.

The bees, however, are not infallible, nor does their certainty
appear mechanical. They will commit grave errors at times, when
circumstances present unusual difficulty. They will often leave too
much space, or too little, between the combs. This they will remedy
as best they can, either by giving an oblique twist to the comb that
too nearly approaches the other, or by introducing an irregular comb
into the gap. "The bees sometimes make mistakes," Reaumur remarks on
this subject, "and herein we may find yet another fact which appears
to prove that they reason."


We know that the bees construct four kinds of cells. First of all,
the royal cells, which are exceptional, and contrived somewhat in
the shape of an acorn; then the large cells destined for the rearing
of males and storing of provisions when flowers super-abound; and
the small cells, serving as workers' cradles and ordinary
store-rooms, which occupy normally about four-fifths of the
built-over surface of the hive. And lastly, so as to connect in
orderly fashion the larger cells with the small, the bees will erect
a certain number of what are known as transition cells. These must
of necessity be irregular in form; but so unerringly accurate are
the dimensions of the second and third types that, at the time when
the decimal system was established, and a fixed measure sought in
nature to serve as a starting-point and an incontestable standard,
it was proposed by Reaumur to select for this purpose the cell of
the bee.*

     *It was as well, perhaps, that this standard was not
     adopted. For although the diameter of the cells is admirably
     regular, it is, like all things produced by a living
     organism, not _mathematically_ invariable in the same hive.
     Further, as M. Maurice Girard has pointed out, the apothem
     of the cell varies among different races of bees, so that
     the standard would alter from hive to hive, according to the
     species of bee that inhabited it.

Each of the cells is an hexagonal tube placed on a pyramidal base;
and two layers of these tubes form the comb, their bases being
opposed to each other in such fashion that each of the three rhombs
or lozenges which on one side constitute the pyramidal base of one
cell, composes at the same time the pyramidal base of three cells on
the other. It is in these prismatic tubes that the honey is stored;
and to prevent its escaping during the period of maturation,--which
would infallibly happen if the tubes were as strictly horizontal as
they appear to be,--the bees incline them slightly, to an angle of 4
deg or 5 deg.

"Besides the economy of wax," says Reaumur, when considering this
marvellous construction in its entirety, "besides the economy of wax
that results from the disposition of the cells, and the fact that
this arrangement allows the bees to fill the comb without leaving a
single spot vacant, there are other advantages also with respect to
the solidity of the work. The angle at the base of each cell, the
apex of the pyramidal cavity, is buttressed by the ridge formed by
two faces of the hexagon of another cell. The two triangles, or
extensions of the hexagon faces which fill one of the convergent
angles of the cavity enclosed by the three rhombs, form by their
junction a plane angle on the side they touch; each of these angles,
concave within the cell, supports, on its convex side, one of the
sheets employed to form the hexagon of another cell; the sheet,
pressing on this angle, resists the force which is tending to push
it outwards; and in this fashion the angles are strengthened. Every
advantage that could be desired with regard to the solidity of each
cell is procured by its own formation and its position with
reference to the others."


"There are only," says Dr. Reid, "three possible figures of the
cells which can make them all equal and similar, without any useless
interstices. These are the equilateral triangle, the square, and the
regular hexagon. Mathematicians know that there is not a fourth way
possible in which a plane shall be cut into little spaces that shall
be equal, similar, and regular, without useless spaces. Of the three
figures, the hexagon is the most proper for convenience and
strength. Bees, as if they knew this, make their cells regular

"Again, it has been demonstrated that, by making the bottoms of the
cells to consist of three planes meeting in a point, there is a
saving of material and labour in no way inconsiderable. The bees, as
if acquainted with these principles of solid geometry, follow them
most accurately. It is a curious mathematical problem at what
precise angle the three planes which compose the bottom of a cell
ought to meet, in order to make the greatest possible saving, or the
least expense of material and labour.* This is one of the problems
which belong to the higher parts of mathematics. It has accordingly
been resolved by some mathematicians, particularly by the ingenious
Maclaurin, by a fluctionary calculation which is to be found in the
Transactions of the Royal Society of London. He has determined
precisely the angle required, and he found, by the most exact
mensuration the subject would admit, that it is the very angle in
which the three planes at the bottom of the cell of a honey comb do
actually meet."

     *Reaumur suggested the following problem to the celebrated
     mathematician Koenig: "Of all possible hexagonal cells with
     pyramidal base composed of three equal and similar rhombs,
     to find the one whose construction would need the least
     material." Koenig's answer was, the cell that had for its
     base three rhombs whose large angle was 109 deg 26', and the
     small 70 deg 34'. Another savant, Maraldi, had measured as
     exactly as possible the angles of the rhombs constructed by
     the bees, and discovered the larger to be 109 deg 28', and
     the other 70 deg 32'. Between the two solutions there was a
     difference, therefore, of only 2'. It is probable that the
     error, if error there be, should be attributed to Maraldi
     rather than to the bees; for it is impossible for any
     instrument to measure the angles of the cells, which are not
     very clearly defined, with infallible precision.

The problem suggested to Koenig was put to another mathematician,
Cramer, whose solution came even closer to that of the bees, viz.,
109 deg 28 1/2' for the large angle, and 70 deg 31 1/2' for the


I myself do not believe that the bees indulge in these abstruse
calculations; but, on the other hand, it seems equally impossible to
me that such astounding results can be due to chance alone, or to
the mere force of circumstance. The wasps, for instance, also build
combs with hexagonal cells, so that for them the problem was
identical, and they have solved it in a far less ingenious fashion.
Their combs have only one layer of cells, thus lacking the common
base that serves the bees for their two opposite layers. The wasps'
comb, therefore, is not only less regular, but also less
substantial; and so wastefully constructed that, besides loss of
material, they must sacrifice about a third of the available space
and a quarter of the energy they put forth. Again, we find that the
trigonae and meliponae, which are veritable and domesticated bees,
though of less advanced civilisation, erect only one row of
rearing-cells, and support their horizontal, superposed combs on
shapeless and costly columns of wax. Their provision-cells are
merely great pots, gathered together without any order; and, at the
point between the spheres where these might have intersected and
induced a profitable economy of space and material, the meliponae
clumsily insert a section of cells with flat walls. Indeed, to
compare one of their nests with the mathematical cities of our own
honey-flies, is like imagining a hamlet composed of primitive huts
side by side with a modern town; whose ruthless regularity is the
logical, though perhaps somewhat charmless, result of the genius of
man, that to-day, more fiercely than ever before, seeks to conquer
space, matter, and time.


There is a theory, originally propounded by Buffon and now revived,
which assumes that the bees have not the least intention of
constructing hexagons with a pyramidal base, but that their desire
is merely to contrive round cells in the wax; only, that as their
neighbours, and those at work on the opposite side of the comb, are
digging at the same moment and with the same intentions, the points
where the cells meet must of necessity become hexagonal. Besides, it
is said, this is precisely what happens to crystals, the scales of
certain kinds of fish, soap-bubbles, etc., as it happens in the
following experiment that Buffon suggested. "If," he said, "you fill
a dish with peas or any other cylindrical bean, pour as much water
into it as the space between the beans will allow, close it
carefully and then boil the water, you will find that all these
cylinders have become six-sided columns. And the reason is evident,
being indeed purely mechanical; each of the cylindrical beans tends,
as it swells, to occupy the utmost possible space within a given
space; wherefore it follows that the reciprocal compression compels
them all to become hexagonal. Similarly each bee seeks to occupy the
utmost possible space within a given space, with the necessary
result that, its body being cylindrical, the cells become hexagonal
for the same reason as before, viz., the working of reciprocal


These reciprocal obstacles, it would seem, are capable of marvellous
achievement; on the same principle, doubtless, that the vices of man
produce a general virtue, whereby the human race, hateful often in
its individuals, ceases to be so in the mass. We might reply, first
of all, with Brougham, Kirby and Spence, and others, that
experiments with peas and soap-bubbles prove nothing; for the reason
that in both cases the pressure produces only irregular forms, and
in no wise explains the existence of the prismatic base of the
cells. But above all we might answer that there are more ways than
one of dealing with rigid necessity; that the wasp, the humble-bee,
the trigonae and meliponae of Mexico and Brazil achieve very
different and manifestly inferior results, although the
circumstances, and their own intentions, are absolutely identical
with those of the bees. It might further be urged that if the bee's
cell does indeed follow the law that governs crystals, snow,
soap-bubbles, as well as Buffon's boiled peas, it also, through its
general symmetry, disposition in opposite layers, and angle of
inclination, obeys many other laws that are not to be found in
matter. May we not say, too, of man that all his genius is comprised
in his fashion of handling kindred necessities? And if it appear to
us that his manner of treating these is the best there can possibly
be, the reason only can lie in the absence of a judge superior to
ourselves. But it is well that argument should make way for fact;
and indeed, to the objection based on an experiment, the best reply
of all must be a counter-experiment.

In order to satisfy myself that hexagonal architecture truly was
written in the spirit of the bee, I cut off and removed one day a
disc of the size of a five-franc piece from the centre of a comb, at
a spot where there were both brood-cells and cells full of honey. I
cut into the circumference of this disc, at the intersecting point
of the pyramidal cells; inserted a piece of tin on the base of one
of these sections, shaped exactly to its dimensions, and possessed
of resistance sufficient to prevent the bees from bending or
twisting it. Then I replaced the slice of comb, duly furnished with
its slab of tin, on the spot whence I had removed it; so that, while
one side of the comb presented no abnormal feature, the damage
having been repaired, the other displayed a sort of deep cavity,
covering the space of about thirty cells, with the piece of tin as
its base. The bees were disconcerted at first; they flocked in
numbers to inspect and examine this curious chasm; day after day
they wandered agitatedly to and fro, apparently unable to form a
decision. But, as I fed them copiously every evening, there came a
moment when they had no more cells available for the storage of
provisions. Thereupon they probably summoned their great engineers,
distinguished sculptors, and wax-workers, and invited them to turn
this useless cavity to profitable account.

The wax-makers having gathered around and formed themselves into a
dense festoon, so that the necessary heat might be maintained, other
bees descended into the hole and proceeded solidly to attach the
metal, and connect it with the walls of adjacent cells, by means of
little waxen hooks which they distributed regularly over its
surface. In the upper semicircle of the disc they then began to
construct three or four cells, uniting these to the hooks. Each of
these transition, or accommodation, cells was more or less deformed
at the top, to allow of its being soldered to the adjoining cell on
the comb; but its lower portion already designed on the tin three
very clear angles, whence there ran three little straight lines that
correctly indicated the first half of the following cell.

After forty-eight hours, and notwithstanding the fact that only
three bees at a time were able to work in the cavity, the entire
surface of the tin was covered with outlined cells. These were less
regular, certainly, than those of an ordinary comb; wherefore the
queen, having inspected them, wisely declined to lay any eggs there,
for the generation that would have arisen therefrom would
necessarily have been deformed. Each cell, however, was a perfect
hexagon; nor did it contain a single crooked line, a single curved
figure or angle. And yet the ordinary conditions had all been
changed; the cells had neither been scooped out of a block,
according to Huber's description, nor had they been designed within
a waxen hood, and, from being circular at first, been subsequently
converted into hexagons by the pressure of adjoining cells, as
explained by Darwin. Neither could there be question here of
reciprocal obstacles, the cells having been formed one by one, and
their first lines traced on what practically was a bare table. It
would seem incontestable, therefore, that the hexagon is not merely
the result of mechanical necessities, but that it has its true place
in the plans, the experience, the intellect and will of the bee. I
may relate here another curious instance of the workers' sagacity:
the cells they built on the tin had no other base than the metal
itself. The engineers of the corps had evidently decided that the
tin could adequately retain the honey; and had considered that, the
substance being impermeable, they need not waste the material they
value so highly by covering the metal with a layer of wax. But, a
short time after, some drops of honey having been placed in two of
these cells, the bees discovered, in tasting it, that the contact of
the metal had a deteriorating effect. Thereupon they reconsidered
the matter, and covered over with wax the entire surface of the tin.


Were it our desire to throw light upon all the secrets of this
geometric architecture, we should have more than one curious
question still to consider; as for instance the shape of the first
cells, which, being attached to the roof, are modified in such a
manner as to touch the roof at the greatest possible number of

The design of the principal thoroughfares is determined by the
parallelism of the combs; but we must admire the ingenious
construction of alleys and gangways through and around the comb, so
skilfully contrived as to provide short cuts in every direction and
prevent congestion of traffic, while ensuring free circulation of
air. And finally we should have to study the construction of
transition cells, wherein we see a unanimous instinct at work that
impels the bees at a given moment to increase the size of their
dwellings. Three reasons may dictate this step: an extraordinary
harvest may call for larger receptacles, the workers may consider
the population to be sufficiently numerous, or it may have become
necessary that males should be born. Nor can we in such cases
refrain from wondering at the ingenious economy, the unerring,
harmonious conviction, with which the bees will pass from the small
to the large, from the large to the small; from perfect symmetry to,
where unavoidable, its very reverse, returning to ideal regularity
so soon as the laws of a live geometry will allow; and all the time
not losing a cell, not suffering a single one of their numerous
structures to be sacrificed, to be ridiculous, uncertain, or
barbarous, or any section thereof to become unfit for use. But I
fear that I have already wandered into many details that will have
but slender interest for the reader, whose eyes perhaps may never
have followed a flight of bees; or who may have regarded them only
with the passing interest with which we are all of us apt to regard
the flower, the bird or the precious stone, asking of these no more
than a slight superficial assurance, and forgetting that the most
trivial secret of the non-human object we behold in nature connects
more closely perhaps with the profound enigma of our origin and our
end, than the secret of those of our passions that we study the most
eagerly and the most passionately.


And I will pass over too--in my desire that this essay shall not
become too didactic--the remarkable instinct that induces the bees
at times to thin and demolish the extremity of their combs, when
these are to be enlarged or lengthened; though it must be admitted
that in this case the "blind building instinct" fails signally to
account for their demolishing in order that they may rebuild, or
undoing what has been done that it may be done afresh, and with more
regularity. I will content myself also with a mere reference to the
remarkable experiment that enables us, with the aid of a piece of
glass, to compel the bees to start their combs at a right angle;
when they most ingeniously contrive that the enlarged cells on the
convex side shall coincide with the reduced cells on the concave
side of the comb.

But before finally quitting this subject let us pause, though it be
but for an instant, and consider the mysterious fashion in which
they manage to act in concert and combine their labour, when
simultaneously carving two opposite sides of a comb, and unable
therefore to see each other. Take a finished comb to the light, fix
your eyes on the diaphanous wax; you will see, most clearly
designed, an entire network of sharply cut prisms, a whole system of
concordances so infallible that one might almost believe them to be
stamped on steel.

I wonder whether those who never have seen the interior of a hive
can form an adequate conception of the arrangement and aspect of the
combs. Let them imagine--we will take a peasant's hive, where the
bee is left entirely to its own resources--let them imagine a dome
of straw or osier, divided from top to bottom by five, six, eight,
sometimes ten, strips of wax, resembling somewhat great slices of
bread, that run in strictly parallel lines from the top of the dome
to the floor, espousing closely the shape of the ovoid walls.
Between these strips is contrived a space of about half an inch, to
enable the bees to stand and to pass each other. At the moment when
they begin to construct one of these strips at the top of the hive,
the waxen wall (which is its rough model, and will later be thinned
and extended) is still very thick, and completely excludes the fifty
or sixty bees at work on its inner face from the fifty or sixty
simultaneously engaged in carving the outer, so that it is wholly
impossible for one group to see the other, unless indeed their sight
be able to penetrate opaque matter. And yet there is not a hole that
is scooped on the inner surface, not a fragment of wax that is
added, but corresponds with mathematical precision to a protuberance
or cavity on the outer surface, and vice versa. How does this
happen? How is it that one does not dig too deep, another not deep
enough? Whence the invariable magical coincidence between the angles
of the lozenges? What is it tells the bees that at this point they
must begin, and at that point stop? Once again we must content
ourselves with the reply, that is no reply: "It is a mystery of the

Huber has sought to explain this mystery by suggesting that the
pressure of the bees' hooks and teeth may possibly produce slight
projections, at regular intervals, on the opposite side of the comb;
or that they may be able to estimate the thickness of the block by
the flexibility, elasticity, or some other physical quality of the
wax; or again, that their antennae, which seem so well adapted for
the questioning of the finer, less evident side of things, may serve
as a compass in the invisible; or, lastly, that the position of
every cell may derive mathematically from the arrangement and
dimensions of the cells on the first row, and thus dispense with the
need for further measurement. But these explanations are evidently
insufficient; the first are mere hypotheses that cannot be verified,
the others do no more than transplant the mystery. And useful as it
may be to transplant mystery as often as we possibly can, it were
not wise to imagine that a mystery has ceased to be because we have
shifted its home.


Now let us leave these dreary building grounds, this geometrical
desert of cells. The combs have been started, and are becoming
habitable. Though it be here the infinitely little that, without
apparent hope, adds itself to the infinitely little; though our eye
with its limited vision look and see nothing, the work of wax,
halting neither by day nor by night, will advance with incredible
quickness. The impatient queen already has more than once paced the
stockades that gleam white in the darkness; and no sooner is the
first row of dwellings complete than she takes possession with her
escort of counsellors, guardians, or servants--for we know not
whether she lead or be led, be venerated or supervised. When the
spot has been reached that she, or her urgent advisers, may regard
as favourable, she arches her back, bends forward, and introduces
the extremity of her long spindle-shaped abdomen into one of the
cells; the-little eager heads of her escort meanwhile forming a
passionate circle around her, watching her with their enormous black
eyes, supporting her, caressing her wings, and waving their feverish
antennae as though to encourage, incite, or congratulate. You may
easily discover the spot where the queen shall be found by the sort
of starry cockade, or oval brooch perhaps of the imposing kind our
grandmothers used to wear, of which she forms the central stone. And
one may mention here the curious fact that the workers always avoid
turning their back on the queen. No sooner has she approached a
group than they will invariably arrange themselves so as to face her
with eyes and antennae, and to walk backwards before her. It is a
token of respect, or of solicitude, that, unlikely as it may seem,
is nevertheless constant and general. But to return to the queen.
During the slight spasm that visibly accompanies the emission of an
egg, one of her daughters will often throw her arms round her and
appear to be whispering to her, brow pressed to brow and mouth to
mouth. But the queen, in no wise disturbed by this somewhat bold
demonstration, takes her time, tranquilly, calmly, wholly absorbed
by the mission that would seem amorous delight to her rather than
labour. And after some seconds she will rise, very quietly, take a
step back, execute a slight turn on herself, and proceed to the next
cell, into which she will first, before introducing her abdomen, dip
her head to make sure that all is in order and that she is not
laying twice in the same cell; and in the meanwhile two or three of
her escort will have plunged into the cell she has quitted to see
whether the work be duly accomplished, and to care for, and tenderly
house, the little bluish egg she has laid.

From this moment, up to the first frosts of autumn, she does not
cease laying; she lays while she is being fed, and even in her
sleep, if indeed she sleeps at all, she still lays. She represents
henceforth the devouring force of the future, which invades every
corner of the kingdom. Step by step she pursues the unfortunate
workers who are exhaustedly, feverishly erecting the cradles her
fecundity demands. We have here the union of two mighty instincts;
and their workings throw into light, though they leave unresolved,
many an enigma of the hive.

It will happen, for instance, that the workers will distance her,
and acquire a certain start; whereupon, mindful of their duties as
careful housewives to provide for the bad days ahead, they hasten to
fill with honey the cells they have wrested from the avidity of the
species. But the queen approaches; material wealth must give way to
the scheme of nature; and the distracted workers are compelled with
all speed to remove the importunate treasure.

But assume them to be a whole comb ahead, and to have no longer
before them her who stands for the tyranny of days they shall none
of them see; we find then that they eagerly, hurriedly, build a zone
of large cells, cells for males; whose construction is very much
easier, and far more rapid. When the queen in her turn attains this
unthankful zone, she will regretfully lay a few eggs there, then
cease, pass beyond, and clamour for more workers' cells. Her
daughters obey; little by little they reduce the cells; and then the
pursuit starts afresh, till at last the insatiable mother shall have
traversed the whole circumference of the hive, and have returned to
the first cells. These, by this time, will be empty; for the first
generation will have sprung into life, soon to go forth, from their
shadowy corner of birth, disperse over the neighbouring blossoms,
people the rays of the sun and quicken the smiling hours; and then
sacrifice themselves in their turn to the new generations that are
already filling their place in the cradles.


And whom does the queen-bee obey? She is ruled by nourishment given
her; for she does not take her own food, but is fed like a child by
the very workers whom her fecundity harasses. And the food these
workers deal out is nicely proportioned to the abundance of flowers,
to the spoil brought back by those who visit the calyces. Here,
then, as everywhere else in the world, one part of the circle is
wrapped in darkness; here, as everywhere, it is from without, from
an unknown power, that the supreme order issues; and the bees, like
ourselves, obey the nameless lord of the wheel that incessantly
turns on itself, and crushes the wills that have set it in motion.

Some little time back, I conducted a friend to one of my hives of
glass, and showed him the movements of this wheel, which was as
readily perceptible as the great wheel of a clock; showed him, in
all its bareness, the universal agitation on every comb, the
perpetual, frantic, bewildered haste of the nurses around the
brood-cells; the living gangways and ladders formed by the makers of
wax, the abounding, unceasing activity of the entire population, and
their pitiless, useless effort; the ardent, feverish coming and
going of all, the general absence of sleep save in the cradles
alone, around which continuous labour kept watch; the denial of even
the repose of death in a home which permits no illness and accords
no grave; and my friend, his astonishment over, soon turned his eyes
away, and in them I could read the signs of I know not what saddened

And truly, underlying the gladness that we note first of all in the
hive, underlying the dazzling memories of beautiful days that render
it the storehouse of summer's most precious jewels, underlying the
blissful journeys that knit it so close to the flowers and to
running water, to the sky, to the peaceful abundance of all that
makes for beauty and happiness--underlying all these exterior joys,
there reposes a sadness as deep as the eye of man can behold. And
we, who dimly gaze on these things with our own blind eyes, we know
full well that it is not they alone that we are striving to see, not
they alone that we cannot understand, but that before us there lies
a pitiable form of the great power that quickens us also.

Sad let it be, as all things in nature are sad, when our eyes rest
too closely upon them. And thus it ever shall be so long as we know
not her secret, know not even whether secret truly there be. And
should we discover some day that there is no secret, or that the
secret is monstrous, other duties will then arise that, as yet,
perhaps, have no name. Let our heart, if it will, in the meanwhile
repeat, "It is sad;" but let our reason be content to add, "Thus it
is." At the present hour the duty before us is to seek out that
which perhaps may be hiding behind these sorrows; and, urged on by
this endeavour, we must not turn our eyes away, but steadily,
fixedly, watch these sorrows and study them, with a courage and
interest as keen as though they were joys. It is right that before
we judge nature, before we complain, we should at least ask every
question that we can possibly ask.


We have seen that the workers, when free for the moment from the
threatening fecundity of the queen, hasten to erect cells for
provisions, whose construction is more economical and capacity
greater. We have seen, too, that the queen prefers to lay in the
smaller cells, for which she is incessantly clamouring. When these
are wanting, however, or till they be provided, she resigns herself
to laying her eggs in the large cells she finds on her road.

These eggs, though absolutely identical with those from which
workers are hatched, will give birth to males, or drones. Now,
conversely to what takes place when a worker is turned into queen,
it is here neither the form nor the capacity of the cell that
produces this change; for from an egg laid in a large cell and
afterwards transferred to that of a worker (a most difficult
operation, because of the microscopic minuteness and extreme
fragility of the egg, but one that I have four or five times
successfully accomplished) there will issue an undeniable male,
though more or less atrophied. It follows, therefore, that the queen
must possess the power, while laying, of knowing or determining the
sex of the egg, and of adapting it to the cell over which she is
bending. She will rarely make a mistake. How does she contrive, from
among the myriad eggs her ovaries contain, to separate male from
female, and lower them, at will, into the unique oviduct?

Here, yet again, there confronts us an enigma of the hive; and in
this case one of the most unfathomable. We know that the virgin
queen is not sterile; but the eggs that she lays will produce only
males. It is not till after the impregnation of the nuptial flight
that she can produce workers or drones at will. The nuptial flight
places her permanently in possession, till death, of the spermatozoa
torn from her unfortunate lover. These spermatozoa, whose number Dr.
Leuckart estimates at twenty-five millions, are preserved alive in a
special gland known as the spermatheca, that is situate under the
ovaries, at the entrance to the common oviduct. It is imagined that
the narrow aperture of the smaller cells, and the manner in which
the form of this aperture compels the queen to bend forward,
exercise a certain pressure upon the spermatheca, in consequence of
which the spermatozoa spring forth and fecundate the egg as it
passes. In the large cells this pressure would not take place, and
the spermatheca would therefore not open. Others, again, believe
that the queen has perfect control over the muscles that open and
close the spermatheca on the vagina; and these muscles are certainly
very numerous, complex, and powerful. For myself, I incline to the
second of these hypotheses, though I do not for a moment pretend to
decide which is the more correct; for indeed, the further we go and
the more closely we study, the more plainly is it brought home to us
that we merely are waifs shipwrecked on the ocean of nature; and
ever and anon, from a sudden wave that shall be more transparent
than others, there leaps forth a fact that in an instant confounds
all we imagined we knew. But the reason of my preferring the second
theory is that, for one thing, the experiments of a Bordeaux
bee-keeper, M. Drory, have shown that in cases where all the large
cells have been removed from the hive, the mother will not hesitate,
when the moment for laying male eggs has come, to deposit these in
workers' cells; and that, inversely, she will lay workers' eggs in
cells provided for males, if she have no others at her disposal.
And, further, we learn from the interesting observations of M. Fabre
on the Osmiae, which are wild and olitary bees of the Gastrilegidae
family, that not only does the Osmia know in advance the sex of the
egg she will lay, but that this sex is "optional for the mother, who
decides it in accordance with the space of which she disposes; this
space being often governed by chance and not to be modified; and she
will deposit a male egg here and a female there." I shall not enter
into the details of the great French entomologist's experiments, for
they are exceedingly minute, and would take us too far. But
whichever be the hypothesis we prefer to accept, either will serve
to explain the queen's inclination to lay her eggs in workers'
cells, without it being necessary to credit her with the least
concern for the future.

It is not impossible that this slave-mother, whom we are inclined to
pity, may be indeed a great amorist, a great voluptuary, deriving a
certain enjoyment, an after-taste, as it were, of her one
marriage-flight, from the union of the male and female principle
that thus comes to pass in her being. Here again nature, never so
ingenious, so cunningly prudent and diverse, as when contriving her
snares of love, will not have failed to provide a certain pleasure
as a bait in the interest of the species. And yet let us pause for a
moment, and not become the dupes of our own explanation. For indeed,
to attribute an idea of this kind to nature, and regard that as
sufficient, is like flinging a stone into an unfathomable gulf we
may find in the depths of a grotto, and imagining that the sounds it
creates as it falls shall answer our every question, or reveal to us
aught beside the immensity of the abyss.

When we say to ourselves, "This thing is of nature's devising;
she has ordained this marvel; those are her desires that we see
before us!" the fact is merely that our special attention has been
drawn to some tiny manifestation of life upon the boundless surface
of matter that we deem inactive, and choose to describe, with
evident inaccuracy, as nothingness and death. A purely fortuitous
chain of events has allowed this special manifestation to attract
our attention; but a thousand others, no less interesting, perhaps,
and informed with no less intelligence, have vanished, not meeting
with a like good-fortune, and have lost for ever the chance of
exciting our wonder. It were rash to affirm aught beside; and all
that remains, our reflections, our obstinate search for the final
cause, our admiration and hopes--all these in truth are no more than
our feeble cry as, in the depths of the unknown, we clash against
what is more unknowable still; and this feeble cry declares the
highest degree of individual existence attainable for us on this
mute and impenetrable surface, even as the flight of the condor, the
song of the nightingale, reveal to them the highest degree of
existence their species allows. But the evocation of this feeble
cry, whenever opportunity offers, is none the less one of our most
unmistakable duties; nor should we let ourselves be discouraged by
its apparent futility.



HERE let us close our hive, where we find that life is reassuming
its circular movement, is extending and multiplying, to be again
divided as soon as it shall attain the fulness of its happiness and
strength; and let us for the last time reopen the mother-city, and
see what is happening there after the departure of the swarm.

The tumult having subsided, the hapless city, that two thirds of her
children have abandoned for ever, becomes feeble, empty, moribund;
like a body from which the blood has been drained. Some thousands of
bees have remained, however; and these, though a trifle languid
perhaps, are still immovably faithful to the duty a precise destiny
has laid upon them, still conscious of the part that they have
themselves to play; they resume their labours, therefore, fill as
best they can the place of those who have gone, remove all trace of
the orgy, carefully house the provisions that have escaped pillage,
sally forth to the flowers again, and keep scrupulous guard over the
hostages of the future.

And for all that the moment may appear gloomy, hope abounds wherever
the eye may turn. We might be in one of the castles of German
legend, whose walls are composed of myriad phials containing the
souls of men about to be born. For we are in the abode of life that
goes before life. On all sides, asleep in their closely sealed
cradles, in this infinite superposition of marvellous six-sided
cells, lie thousands of nymphs, whiter than milk, who with folded
arms and head bent forward await the hour of awakening. In their
uniform tombs, that, isolated, become nearly transparent, they seem
almost like hoary gnomes, lost in deep thought, or legions of
virgins whom the folds of the shroud have contorted, who are buried
in hexagonal prisms that some inflexible geometrician has multiplied
to the verge of delirium.

Over the entire area that the vertical walls enclose, and in the
midst of this growing world that so soon shall transform itself,
that shall four or five times in succession assume fresh vestments,
and then spin its own winding-sheet in the shadow, hundreds of
workers are dancing and flapping their wings. They appear thus to
generate the necessary heat, and accomplish some other object
besides that is still more obscure; for this dance of theirs
contains some extraordinary movements, so methodically conceived
that they must infallibly answer some purpose which no observer has
as yet, I believe, been able to divine.

A few days more, and the lids of these myriad urns--whereof a
considerable hive will contain from sixty to eighty thousand--will
break, and two large and earnest black eyes will appear, surmounted
by antennae that already are groping at life, while active jaws are
busily engaged in enlarging the opening from within. The nurses at
once come running; they help the young bee to emerge from her
prison, they clean her and brush her, and at the tip of their tongue
present the first honey of the new life. But the bee, that has come
from another world, is bewildered still, trembling and pale; she
wears the feeble look of a little old man who might have escaped
from his tomb, or perhaps of a traveller strewn with the powdery
dust of the ways that lead unto life. She is perfect, however, from
head to foot; she knows at once all that has to be known; and, like
the children of the people, who learn, as it were, at their birth,
that for them there shall never be time to play or to laugh, she
instantly makes her way to the cells that are closed, and proceeds
to beat her wings and to dance in cadence, so that she in her turn
may quicken her buried sisters; nor does she for one instant pause
to decipher the astounding enigma of her destiny, or her race.


The most arduous labours will, however, at first be spared her. A
week must elapse from the day of her birth before she will quit the
hive; she will then perform her first "cleansing flight," and absorb
the air into her tracheae, which, filling, expand her body, and
proclaim her the bride of space. Thereupon she returns to the hive,
and waits yet one week more; and then, with her sisters born the
same day as herself, she will for the first time set forth to visit
the flowers. A special emotion now will lay hold of her; one that
French apiarists term the "soleil d'artifice," but which might more
rightly perhaps be called the "sun of disquiet." For it is evident
that the bees are afraid, that these daughters of the crowd, of
secluded darkness, shrink from the vault of blue, from the infinite
loneliness of the light; and their joy is halting, and woven of
terror. They cross the threshold and pause; they depart, they
return, twenty times. They hover aloft in the air, their head
persistently turned to the home; they describe great soaring circles
that suddenly sink beneath the weight of regret; and their thirteen
thousand eyes will question, reflect, and retain the trees and the
fountain, the gate and the walls, the neighbouring windows and
houses, till at last the aerial course whereon their return shall
glide have become as indelibly stamped in their memory as though it
were marked in space by two lines of steel.


A new mystery confronts us here, which we shall do well to
challenge; for though it reply not, its silence still will extend
the field of our conscious ignorance, which is the most fertile of
all that our activity knows. How do the bees contrive to find their
way back to the hive that they cannot possibly see, that is hidden,
perhaps, by the trees, that in any event must form an imperceptible
point in space? How is it that if taken in a box to a spot two or
three miles from their home, they will almost invariably succeed in
finding their way back?

Do obstacles offer no barrier to their sight; do they guide
themselves by certain indications and landmarks; or do they possess
that peculiar, imperfectly understood sense that we ascribe to the
swallows and pigeons, for instance, and term the "sense of
direction"? The experiments of J. H. Fabre, of Lubbock, and, above
all, of Romanes (Nature, 29 Oct. 1886) seem to establish that it is
not this strange instinct that guides them. I have, on the other
hand, more than once noticed that they appear to pay no attention to
the colour or form of the hive. They are attracted rather by the
ordinary appearance of the platform on which their home reposes, by
the position of the entrance, and of the alighting-board. But this
even is merely subsidiary; were the front of the hive to be altered
from top to bottom, during the workers' absence, they would still
unhesitatingly direct their course to it from out the far depths of
the horizon; and only when confronted by the unrecognisable
threshold would they seem for one instant to pause. Such
experiments as lie in our power point rather to their guiding
themselves by an extraordinarily minute and precise appreciation of
landmarks. It is not the hive that they seem to remember, but its
position, calculated to the minutest fraction, in its relation to
neighbouring objects. And so marvellous is this appreciation, so
mathematically certain, so profoundly inscribed in their memory,
that if, after five months' hibernation in some obscure cellar, the
hive, when replaced on the platform, should be set a little to right
or to left of its former position, all the workers, on their return
from the earliest flowers, will infallibly steer their direct and
unwavering course to the precise spot that it filled the previous
year; and only after some hesitation and groping will they discover
the door which stands not now where it once had stood. It is as
though space had preciously preserved, the whole winter through, the
indelible track of their flight: as though the print of their tiny,
laborious footsteps, still lay graven in the sky.

If the hive be displaced, therefore, many bees will lose their way;
except in the case of their having been carried far from their
former home, and finding the country completely transformed that
they had grown to know perfectly within a radius of two or three
miles; for then, if care be taken to warn them, by means of a little
gangway connecting with the alighting-board, at the entrance to the
hive, that some change has occurred, they will at once proceed to
seek new bearings and create fresh landmarks.


And now let us return to the city that is being repeopled, where
myriad cradles are incessantly opening, and the solid walls even
appear to be moving. But this city still lacks a queen. Seven or
eight curious structures arise from the centre of one of the combs,
and remind us, scattered as they are over the surface of the
ordinary cells, of the circles and protuberances that appear so
strange on the photographs of the moon. They are a species of
capsule, contrived of wrinkled wax or of inclined glands,
hermetically sealed, which fills the place of three or four workers'
cells. As a rule, they are grouped around the same point; and a
numerous guard keep watch, with singular vigilance and restlessness,
over this region that seems instinct with an indescribable prestige.
It is here that the mothers are formed. In each one of these
capsules, before the swarm departs, an egg will be placed by the
mother, or more probably--though as to this we have no certain
knowledge--by one of the workers; an egg that she will have taken
from some neighbouring cell, and that is absolutely identical with
those from which workers are hatched.

From this egg, after three days, a small larva will issue, and
receive a special and very abundant nourishment; and henceforth we
are able to follow, step by step, the movements of one of those
magnificently vulgar methods of nature on which, were we dealing
with men, we should bestow the august name of fatality. The little
larva, thanks to this regimen, assumes an exceptional development;
and in its ideas, no less than in its body, there ensues so
considerable a change that the bee to which it will give birth might
almost belong to an entirely different race of insects.

Four or five years will be the period of her life, instead of the
six or seven weeks of the ordinary worker. Her abdomen will be twice
as long, her colour more golden, and clearer; her sting will be
curved, and her eyes have seven or eight thousand facets instead of
twelve or thirteen thousand. Her brain will be smaller, but she will
possess enormous ovaries, and a special organ besides, the
spermatheca, that will render her almost an hermaphrodite. None of
the instincts will be hers that belong to a life of toil; she will
have no brushes, no pockets wherein to secrete the wax, no baskets
to gather the pollen. The habits, the passions, that we regard as
inherent in the bee, will all be lacking in her. She will not crave
for air, or the light of the sun; she will die without even once
having tasted a flower. Her existence will pass in the shadow, in
the midst of a restless throng; her sole occupation the
indefatigable search for cradles that she must fill. On the other
hand she alone will know the disquiet of love. Not even twice, it
may be, in her life shall she look on the light--for the departure
of the swarm is by no means inevitable; on one occasion only,
perhaps, will she make use of her wings, but then it will be to fly
to her lover. It is strange to see so many things--organs, ideas,
desires, habits, an entire destiny--depending, not on a germ, which
were the ordinary miracle of the plant, the animal, and man, but on
a curious inert substance: a drop of honey.*

     *It is generally admitted to-day that workers and queens,
     after the hatching of the egg, receive the same
     nourishment,--a kind of milk, very rich in nitrogen, that a
     special gland in the nurses' head secretes. But after a few
     days the worker larvae are weaned, and put on a coarser diet
     of honey and pollen; whereas the future queen, until she be
     fully developed, is copiously fed on the precious milk known
     as "royal jelly."


About a week has passed since the departure of the old queen. The
royal nymphs asleep in the capsules are not all of the same age, for
it is to the interest of the bees that the births should be nicely
gradationed, and take place at regular intervals, in accordance with
their possible desire for a second swarm, a third, or even a fourth.
The workers have for some hours now been actively thinning the walls
of the ripest cell, while the young queen, from within, has been
simultaneously gnawing the rounded lid of her prison. And at last
her head appears; she thrusts herself forward; and, with the help of
the guardians who hasten eagerly to her, who brush her, caress her,
and clean her, she extricates herself altogether and takes her first
steps on the comb. At the moment of birth she too, like the workers,
is trembling and pale, but after ten minutes or so her legs become
stronger, and a strange restlessness seizes her; she feels that she
is not alone, that her kingdom has yet to be conquered, that close
by pretenders are hiding; and she eagerly paces the waxen walls in
search of her rivals. But there intervene here the mysterious
decisions and wisdom of instinct, of the spirit of the hive, or of
the assembly of workers. The most surprising feature of all, as we
watch these things happening before us in a hive of glass, is the
entire absence of hesitation, of the slightest division of opinion.
There is not a trace of discussion or discord. The atmosphere of the
city is one of absolute unanimity, preordained, which reigns over
all; and every one of the bees would appear to know in advance the
thought of her sisters. And yet this moment is the gravest, the most
vital, in their entire history. They have to choose between three or
four courses whose results, in the distant future, will be totally
different; which, too, the slightest accident may render disastrous.
They have to reconcile the multiplication of species--which is their
passion, or innate duty--with the preservation of the hive and its
people. They will err at times; they will successively send forth
three or four swarms, thereby completely denuding the mother-city;
and these swarms, too feeble to organise, will succumb, it may be,
at the approach of winter, caught unawares by this climate of ours,
which is different far from their original climate, that the bees,
notwithstanding all, have never forgotten. In such cases they suffer
from what is known as "swarming fever;" a condition wherein life, as
in ordinary fever, reacting too ardently on itself, passes its aim,
completes the circle, and discovers only death.


Of all the decisions before them there is none that would seem
imperative; nor can man, if content to play the part of spectator
only, foretell in the slightest degree which one the bees will
adopt. But that the most careful deliberation governs their choice
is proved by the fact that we are able to influence, or even
determine it, by for instance reducing or enlarging the space we
accord them; or by removing combs full of honey, and setting up, in
their stead, empty combs which are well supplied with workers'

The question they have to consider is not whether a second or third
swarm shall be immediately launched,--for in arriving at such a
decision they would merely be blindly and thoughtlessly yielding to
the caprice or temptation of a favourable moment,--but the
instantaneous, unanimous adoption of measures that shall enable them
to issue a second swarm or "cast" three or four days after the birth
of the first queen, and a third swarm three days after the departure
of the second, with this first queen at their head. It must be
admitted, therefore, that we discover here a perfectly reasoned
system, and a mature combination of plans extending over a period
considerable indeed when compared with the brevity of the bee's

These measures concern the care of the youthful queens who still lie
immured in their waxen prisons. Let us assume that the "spirit of
the hive" has pronounced against the despatch of a second swarm. Two
courses still remain open. The bees may permit the first-born of the
royal virgins, the one whose birth we have witnessed, to destroy her
sister-enemies; or they may elect to wait till she have performed
the perilous ceremony known as the "nuptial flight," whereon the
nation's future depends. The immediate massacre will be authorised
often, and often denied; but in the latter case it is of course not
easy for us to pronounce whether the bees' decision be due to a
desire for a second swarm, or to their recognition of the dangers
attending the nuptial flight; for it will happen at times that, on
account of the weather unexpectedly becoming less favourable, or for
some other reason we cannot divine, they will suddenly change their
mind, renounce the cast that they had decreed, and destroy the royal
progeny they had so carefully preserved. But at present we will
suppose that they have determined to dispense with a second swarm,
and that they accept the risks of the nuptial flight. Our young
queen hastens towards the large cradles, urged on by her great
desire, and the guard make way before her. Listening only to her
furious jealousy, she will fling herself on to the first cell she
comes across, madly strip off the wax with her teeth and claws, tear
away the cocoon that carpets the cell, and divest the sleeping
princess of every covering. If her rival should be already
recognisable, the queen will turn so that her sting may enter the
capsule, and will frantically stab it with her venomous weapon until
the victim perish. She then becomes calmer, appeased by the death
that puts a term to the hatred of every creature; she withdraws her
sting, hurries to the adjoining cell, attacks it and opens it,
passing it by should she find in it only an imperfect larva or
nymph; nor does she pause till, at last, exhausted and breathless,
her claws and teeth glide harmless over the waxen walls.

The bees that surround her have calmly watched her fury, have stood
by, inactive, moving only to leave her path clear; but no sooner has
a cell been pierced and laid waste than they eagerly flock to it,
drag out the corpse of the ravished nymph, or the still living
larva, and thrust it forth from the hive, thereupon gorging
themselves with the precious royal jelly that adheres to the sides
of the cell. And finally, when the queen has become too weak to
persist in her passion, they will themselves complete the massacre
of the innocents; and the sovereign race, and their dwellings, will
all disappear.

This is the terrible hour of the hive; the only occasion, with that
of the more justifiable execution of the drones, when the workers
suffer discord and death to be busy amongst them; and here, as often
in nature, it is the favoured of love who attract to themselves the
most extraordinary shafts of violent death.

It will happen at times that two queens will be hatched
simultaneously, the occurrence being rare, however, for the bees
take special care to prevent it. But whenever this does take place,
the deadly combat will begin the moment they emerge from their
cradles; and of this combat Huber was the first to remark an
extraordinary feature. Each time, it would seem that the queens, in
their passes, present their chitrinous cuirasses to each other in
such a fashion that the drawing of the sting would prove mutually
fatal; one might almost believe that, even as a god or goddess was
wont to interpose in the combats of the Iliad, so a god or a
goddess, the divinity of the race, perhaps, interposes here; and the
two warriors, stricken with simultaneous terror, divide and fly, to
meet shortly after and separate again should the double disaster
once more menace the future of their people; till at last one of
them shall succeed in surprising her clumsier or less wary rival,
and in killing her without risk to herself. For the law of the race
has called for one sacrifice only.

The cradles having thus been destroyed and the rivals all slain, the
young queen is accepted by her people; but she will not truly reign
over them, or be treated as was her mother before her, until the
nuptial flight be accomplished; for until she be impregnated the
bees will hold her but lightly, and render most passing homage. Her
history, however, will rarely be as uneventful as this, for the bees
will not often renounce their desire for a second swarm. In that
case, as before, quick with the same desires, the queen will
approach the royal cells; but instead of meeting with docile
servants who second her efforts, she will find her path blocked by a
numerous and hostile guard. In her fury, and urged on by her fixed
idea, she will endeavour to force her way through, or to outflank
them; but everywhere sentinels are posted to protect the sleeping
princesses. She persists, she returns to the charge, to be repulsed
with ever increasing severity, to be somewhat roughly handled even,
until at last she begins vaguely to understand that these little
inflexible workers stand for a law before which that law must bend
whereby she is inspired.

And at last she goes, and wanders from comb to comb, her unsatisfied
wrath finding vent in a war-song, or angry complaint, that every
bee-keeper knows; resembling somewhat the note of a distant trumpet
of silver; so intense, in its passionate feebleness, as to be
clearly audible, in the evening especially, two or three yards from
the double walls of the most carefully enclosed hive.

Upon the workers this royal cry has a magical effect. It terrifies
them, it induces a kind of respectful stupor; and when the queen
sends it forth, as she halts in front of the cells whose approach is
denied her, the guardians who have but this moment been hustling
her, pushing her back, will at once desist, and wait, with bent
head, till the cry shall have ceased to resound. Indeed, some
believe that it is thanks to the prestige of this cry, which the
Sphinx Atropos imitates, that the latter is able to enter the hive,
and gorge itself with honey, without the least molestation on the
part of the bees.

For two or three days, sometimes even for five, this indignant
lament will be heard, this challenge that the queen addresses to her
well protected rivals. And as these in their turn develop, in their
turn grow anxious to see the light, they too set to work to gnaw the
lids of their cells. A mighty disorder would now appear to threaten
the republic. But the genius of the hive, at the time that it formed
its decision, was able to foretell every consequence that might
ensue; and the guardians have had their instructions: they know
exactly what must be done, hour by hour, to meet the attacks of a
foiled instinct, and conduct two opposite forces to a successful
issue. They are fully aware that if the young queens should escape
who now clamour for birth, they would fall into the hands of their
elder sister, by this time irresistible, who would destroy them one
by one. The workers, therefore, will pile on fresh layers of wax in
proportion as the prisoner reduces, from within, the walls of her
tower; and the impatient princess will ardently persist in her
labour, little suspecting that she has to deal with an enchanted
obstacle, that rises ever afresh from its ruin. She hears the
war-cry of her rival; and already aware of her royal duty and
destiny, although she has not yet looked upon life, nor knows what a
hive may be, she answers the challenge from within the depths of her
prison. But her cry is different; it is stifled and hollow, for it
has to traverse the walls of a tomb; and, when night is falling, and
noises are hushed, and high over all there reigns the silence of the
stars, the apiarist who nears these marvellous cities and stands,
questioning, at their entrance, recognises and understands the
dialogue that is passing between the wandering queen and the virgins
in prison.


To the young princesses, however, this prolonged reclusion is of
material benefit; for when they at last are freed they have grown
mature and vigorous, and are able to fly. But during this period of
waiting the strength of the first queen has also increased, and is
sufficient now to enable her to face the perils of the voyage. The
time has arrived, therefore, for the departure of the second swarm,
or "cast," with the first-born of the queens at its head. No sooner
has she gone than the workers left in the hive will set one of the
prisoners free; and she will evince the same murderous desires, send
forth the same cries of anger, until, at last, after three or four
days, she will leave the hive in her turn, at the head of the
tertiary swarm; and so in succession, in the case of "swarming
fever," till the mother-city shall be completely exhausted.

Swammerdam cites a hive that, through its swarms and the swarms of
its swarms, was able in a single season to found no less than thirty

Such extraordinary multiplication is above all noticeable after
disastrous winters; and one might almost believe that the bees,
forever in touch with the secret desires of nature, are conscious of
the dangers that menace their race. But at ordinary times this fever
will rarely occur in a strong and well-governed hive. There are many
that swarm only once; and some, indeed, not at all.

After the second swarm the bees, as a rule, will renounce further
division, owing either to their having observed the excessive
feebleness of their own stock, or to the prudence urged upon them by
threatening skies. In that case they will allow the third queen to
slaughter the captives; ordinary life will at once be resumed, and
pursued with the more ardour for the reason that the workers are all
very young, that the hive is depopulated and impoverished, and that
there are great voids to fill before the arrival of winter.


The departure of the second and third swarms resembles that of the
first, and the conditions are identical, with the exception that the
bees are fewer in number, less circumspect, and lacking in scouts;
and also that the young and virgin queen, being unencumbered and
ardent, will fly much further, and in the first stage lead the swarm
to a considerable distance from the hive. The conduct of these
second and third migrations will be far more rash, and their future
more problematical. The queen at their head, the representative of
the future, has not yet been impregnated. Their entire destiny
depends on the ensuing nuptial flight. A passing bird, a few drops
of rain, a mistake, a cold wind--any one of these may give rise to
irremediable disaster. Of this the bees are so well aware that when
the young queen sallies forth in quest of her lover, they often will
abandon the labours they have begun, will forsake the home of a day
that already is dear to them, and accompany her in a body, dreading
to let her pass out of their sight, eager, as they form closely
around her, and shelter her beneath their myriad devoted wings, to
lose themselves with her, should love cause her to stray so far from
the hive that the as yet unfamiliar road of return shall grow
blurred and hesitating in every memory.


But so potent is the law of the future that none of these
uncertainties, these perils of death, will cause a single bee to
waver. The enthusiasm displayed by the second and third swarms is
not less than that of the first. No sooner has the mother-city
pronounced its decision than a battalion of workers will flock
around each dangerous young queen, eager to follow her fortunes, to
accompany her on the voyage where there is so much to lose, and so
little to gain beyond the desire of a satisfied instinct. Whence do
they derive the energy we ourselves never possess, whereby they
break with the past as though with an enemy? Who is it selects from
the crowd those who shall go forth, and declares who shall remain?
No special class divides those who stay from those who wander
abroad; it will be the younger here and the elder there; around each
queen who shall never return veteran foragers jostle tiny workers,
who for the first time shall face the dizziness of the blue. Nor is
the proportionate strength of a swarm controlled by chance or
accident, by the momentary dejection or transport of an instinct,
thought, or feeling. I have more than once tried to establish a
relation between the number of bees composing a swarm and the number
of those that remain; and although the difficulties of this
calculation are such as to preclude anything approaching
mathematical precision, I have at least been able to gather that
this relation--if we take into account the brood-cells, or in other
words the forthcoming births--is sufficiently constant to point to
an actual and mysterious reckoning on the part of the genius of the


We will not follow these swarms on their numerous, and often most
complicated, adventures. Two swarms, at times, will join forces; at
others, two or three of the imprisoned queens will profit by the
confusion attending the moment of departure to elude the
watchfulness of their guardians and join the groups that are
forming. Occasionally, too, one of the young queens, finding herself
surrounded by males, will cause herself to be impregnated in the
swarming flight, and will then drag all her people to an
extraordinary height and distance. In the practice of apiculture
these secondary and tertiary swarms are always returned to the
mother-hive. The queens will meet on the comb; the workers will
gather around and watch their combat; and, when the stronger has
overcome the weaker they will then, in their ardour for work and
hatred of disorder, expel the corpses, close the door on the
violence of the future, forget the past, return to their cells, and
resume their peaceful path to the flowers that await them.


We will now, in order to simplify matters, return to the queen whom
the bees have permitted to slaughter her sisters, and resume the
account of her adventures. As I have already stated, this massacre
will be often prevented, and often sanctioned, at times even when
the bees apparently do not intend to issue a second swarm; for we
notice the same diversity of political spirit in the different hives
of an apiary as in the different human nations of a continent. But
it is clear that the bees will act imprudently in giving their
consent; for if the queen should die, or stray in the nuptial
flight, it will be impossible to fill her place, the workers' larvae
having passed the age when they are susceptible of royal
transformation. Let us assume, however, that the imprudence has been
committed; and behold our first-born, therefore, unique sovereign,
and recognised as such in the spirit of her people. But she is still
a virgin. To become as was the mother before her, it is essential
that she should meet the male within the first twenty days of her
life. Should the event for some reason be delayed beyond this
period, her virginity becomes irrevocable. And yet we have seen that
she is not sterile, virgin though she be. There confronts us here
the great mystery--or precaution--of Nature, that is known as
parthenogenesis, and is common to a certain number of insects, such
as the aphides, the lepidoptera of the Psyche genus, the hymenoptera
of the Cynipede family, etc. The virgin queen is able to lay; but
from all the eggs that she will deposit in the cells, be these large
or small, there will issue males alone; and as these never work, as
they live at the expense of the females, as they never go foraging
except on their own account, and are generally incapable of
providing for their subsistence, the result will be, at the end of
some weeks, that the last exhausted worker will perish, and the
colony be ruined and totally annihilated. The queen, we have said,
will produce thousands of drones; and each of these will possess
millions of the spermatozoa whereof it is impossible that a single
one can have penetrated into the organism of the mother. That may
not be more astounding, perhaps, than a thousand other and analogous
phenomena; and, indeed, when we consider these problems, and more
especially those of generation, the marvellous and the unexpected
confront us so constantly--occurring far more frequently, and above
all in far less human fashion, than in the most miraculous fairy
stories--that after a time astonishment becomes so habitual with us
that we almost cease to wonder. The fact, however, is sufficiently
curious to be worthy of notice. But, on the other hand, how shall we
explain to ourselves the aim that nature can have in thus favouring
the valueless drones at the cost of the workers who are so
essential? Is she afraid lest the females might perhaps be induced
by their intellect unduly to limit the number of their parasites,
which, destructive though they be, are still necessary for the
preservation of the race? Or is it merely an exaggerated reaction
against the misfortune of the unfruitful queen? Can we have here one
of those blind and extreme precautions which, ignoring the cause of
the evil, overstep the remedy; and, in the endeavour to prevent an
unfortunate accident, bring about a catastrophe? In reality--though
we must not forget that the natural, primitive reality is different:
from that of the present, for in the original forest the colonies
might well be far more scattered than they are to-day--in reality
the queen's unfruitfulness will rarely be due to the want of males,
for these are very numerous always, and will flock from afar; but
rather to the rain, or the cold, that will have kept her too long in
the hive, and more frequently still to the imperfect state of her
wings, whereby she will be prevented from describing the high flight
in the air that the organ of the male demands. Nature, however,
heedless of these more intrinsic causes, is so deeply concerned with
the multiplication of males, that we sometimes find, in motherless
hives, two or three workers possessed of so great a desire to
preserve the race that, their atrophied ovaries notwithstanding,
they will still endeavour to lay; and, their organs expanding
somewhat beneath the empire of this exasperated sentiment, they will
succeed in depositing a few eggs in the cells; but from these eggs,
as from those of the virgin mother, there will, issue only males.


Here we behold the active intervention of a superior though perhaps
imprudent will, which offers irresistible obstruction to the
intelligent will of a life. In the insect world such interventions
are comparatively frequent, and much can be gained from their study;
for this world being more densely peopled and more complex than
others, certain special desires of nature are often more palpably
revealed to us there; and she may even at times be detected in the
midst of experiments we might almost be warranted in regarding as
incomplete. She has one great and general desire, for instance, that
she displays on all sides; the amelioration of each species through
the triumph of the stronger. This struggle, as a rule, is most
carefully organised. The hecatomb of the weak is enormous, but that
matters little so long as the victors' reward be effectual and
certain. But there are cases when one might almost imagine that
nature had not had time enough to disentangle her combinations;
cases where reward is impossible, and the fate of the victor no less
disastrous than that of the vanquished. And of such, selecting an
instance that will not take us too far from our bees, I know of no
instance more striking than that of the triongulins of the _Sitaris
colletes._ And it will be seen that, in many details, this story is
less foreign to the history of man than might perhaps be imagined.

These triongulins are the primary larvae of a parasite proper to a
wild, obtuse-tongued, solitary bee, the Colletes, which builds its
nest in subterranean galleries. It is their habit to lie in wait for
the bee at the approach to these galleries; and then, to the number
of three, four, five, or often of more, they will leap on her back,
and bury themselves in her hair. Were the struggle of the weak
against the strong to take place at this moment there would be no
more to be said, and all would pass in accordance with universal
law. But, for a reason we know not, their instinct requires, and
nature has consequently ordained, that they should hold themselves
tranquil so long as they remain on the back of the bee. They
patiently bide their time while she visits the flowers, and
constructs and provisions her cells. But no sooner has an egg been
laid than they all spring upon it; and the innocent colletes
carefully seals down her cell, which she has duly supplied with
food, never suspecting that she has at the same time ensured the
death of her offspring.

The cell has scarcely been closed when the triongulins grouped round
the egg engage in the inevitable and salutary combat of natural
selection. The stronger, more agile, will seize its adversary
beneath the cuirass, and, raising it aloft, will maintain it for
hours in its mandibles until the victim expire. But, while this
fight is in progress, another of the triongulins, that had either no
rival to meet, or already has conquered, takes possession of the egg
and bursts it open. The ultimate victor has therefore this fresh
enemy to subdue; but the conquest is easy, for the triongulin, deep
in the satisfaction of its pre-natal hunger, clings obstinately to
the egg, and does not even attempt to defend itself. It is quickly
despatched; and the other is at last alone, and possessor of the
precious egg it has won so well. It eagerly plunges its head into
the opening its predecessor had made; and begins the lengthy repast
that shall transform it into a perfect insect. But nature, that has
decreed this ordeal of battle, has, on the other hand, established
the prize of victory with such miserly precision that nothing short
of an entire egg will suffice for the nourishment of a single
triongulin. So that, as we are informed by M. Mayet, to whom we owe
the account of these disconcerting adventures, there is lacking to
our conqueror the food its last victim consumed before death; and
incapable therefore of achieving the first stage of its
transformation, it dies in its turn, adhering to the skin of the
egg, or adding itself, in the sugary liquid, to the number of the


This case, though rarely to be followed so closely, is not unique in
natural history. We have here, laid bare before us, the struggle
between the conscious will of the triongulin, that seeks to live,
and the obscure and general will of nature, that not only desires
that the triongulin should live, but is anxious even that its life
should be improved, and fortified, to a degree beyond that to which
its own will impels it. But, through some strange inadvertence, the
amelioration nature imposes suppresses the life of even the fittest,
and the Sitaris Colletes would have long since disappeared had not
chance, acting in opposition to the desires of nature, permitted
isolated individuals to escape from the excellent and far-seeing law
that ordains on all sides the triumph of the stronger.

Can this mighty power err, then, that seems unconscious to us, but
necessarily wise, seeing that the life she organises and maintains
is forever proving her to be right? Can feebleness at times overcome
that supreme reason, which we are apt to invoke when we have
attained the limits of our own? And if that be so, by whom shall
this feebleness be set right?

But let us return to that special form of her resistless
intervention that we find in parthenogenesis. And we shall do well
to remember that, remote as the world may seem in which these
problems confront us, they do indeed yet concern ourselves very
nearly. Who would dare to affirm that no interventions take place in
the sphere of man--interventions that may be more hidden, but not
the less fraught with danger? And in the case before us, which is
right, in the end,--the insect, or nature? What would happen if the
bees, more docile perhaps, or endowed with a higher intelligence,
were too clearly to understand the desires of nature, and to follow
them to the extreme; to multiply males to infinity, seeing that
nature is imperiously calling for males? Would they not risk the
destruction of their species? Are we to believe that there are
intentions in nature that it is dangerous to understand too clearly,
fatal to follow with too much ardour; and that it is one of her
desires that we should not divine, and follow, all her desires? Is
it not possible that herein there may lie one of the perils of the
human race? We too are aware of unconscious forces within us, that
would appear to demand the reverse of what our intellect urges. And
this intellect of ours, that, as a rule, its own boundary reached,
knows not whither to go--can it be well that it should join itself
to these forces, and add to them its unexpected weight?


Have we the right to conclude, from the dangers of parthenogenesis,
that nature is not always able to proportion the means to the end;
and that what she intends to preserve is preserved at times by means
of precautions she has to contrive against her own precautions, and
often through foreign circumstances she has not herself foreseen?
But is there anything she does foresee, anything she does intend to
preserve? Nature, some may say, is a word wherewith we clothe the
unknowable; and few things authorise our crediting it with
intelligence, or with aim. That is true. We touch here the
hermetically sealed vases that furnish our conception of the
universe. Reluctant, over and over again, to label these with the
inscription "UNKNOWN," that disheartens us and compels us to
silence, we engrave upon them, in the degree of their size and
grandeur, the words "Nature, life, death, infinite, selection,
spirit of the race," and many others, even as those who went before
us affixed the words "God, Providence, destiny, reward," etc. Let it
be so, if one will, and no more. But, though the contents of the
vases remain obscure, there is gain at least in the fact that the
inscriptions to-day convey less menace to us, that we are able
therefore to approach them and touch them, and lay our ears close to
them and listen, with wholesome curiosity.

But whatever the name we attach to these vases, it is certain that
one of them, at least, and the greatest--that which bears on its
flank the name "Nature"--encloses a very real force, the most real
of all, and one that is able to preserve an enormous and marvellous
quantity and quality of life on our globe, by means so skilful that
they surpass all that the genius of man could contrive. Could this
quantity and quality be maintained by other means? Is it we who
deceive ourselves when we imagine that we see precautions where
perhaps there is truly no more than a fortunate chance, that has
survived a million unfortunate chances?


That may be; but these fortunate chances teach us a lesson in
admiration as valuable as those we might learn in regions superior
to chance. If we let our gaze travel beyond the creatures that are
possessed of a glimmer of intellect and consciousness, beyond the
protozoa even, which are the first nebulous representatives of the
dawning animal kingdom, we find, as has been abundantly proved by
the experiments of Mr. H. J. Carter, the celebrated microscopist,
that the very lowest embryos, such as the myxomycetes, manifest a
will and desires and preferences; and that infusoria, which
apparently have no organism whatever, give evidence of a certain
cunning. The Amoebae, for instance, will patiently lie in wait for
the new-born Acinetes, as they leave the maternal ovary; being aware
that these must as yet be lacking their poisonous tentacles. Now,
the Amoebae have neither a nervous system nor distinguishable organs
of any kind. Or if we turn to the plants, which, being motionless,
would seem exposed to every fatality,--without pausing to consider
carnivorous species like the Drusera, which really act as
animals,--we are struck by the genius that some of our humblest
flowers display in contriving that the visit of the bee shall
infallibly procure them the crossed fertilisation they need. See the
marvellous fashion in which the Orchis Moris, our humble country
orchid, combines the play of its rostellum and retinacula; observe
the mathematical and automatic inclination and adhesion of its
pollinia; as also the unerring double seesaw of the anthers of the
wild sage, which touch the body of the visiting insect at a
particular spot in order that the insect may, in its turn, touch the
stigma of the neighbouring flower at another particular spot; watch,
too, in the case of the Pedicularis Sylvatica, the successive,
calculated movements of its stigma; and indeed the entrance of the
bee into any one of these three flowers sets every organ vibrating,
just as the skilful marksman who hits the black spot on the target
will cause all the figures to move in the elaborate mechanisms we
see in our village fairs.

We might go lower still, and show, as Ruskin has shown in his
"Ethics of the Dust," the character, habits, and artifices of
crystals; their quarrels, and mode of procedure, when a foreign body
attempts to oppose their plans, which are more ancient by far than
our imagination can conceive; the manner in which they admit or
repel an enemy, the possible victory of the weaker over the
stronger, as, for instance, when the all-powerful quartz submits to
the humble and wily epidote, and allows this last to conquer it; the
struggle, terrible sometimes and sometimes magnificent, between the
rock-crystal and iron; the regular, immaculate expansion and
uncompromising purity of one hyaline block, which rejects whatever
is foul, and the sickly growth, the evident immorality, of its
brother, which admits corruption, and writhes miserably in the void;
as we might quote also the strange phenomena of crystalline
cicatrisation and reintegration mentioned by Claude Bernard, etc.
But the mystery here becomes too foreign to us. Let us keep to our
flowers, which are the last expression of a life that has yet some
kinship with our own. We are not dealing now with animals or
insects, to which we attribute a special, intelligent will, thanks
to which they survive. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that the
flowers possess no such will; at least we cannot discover in them
the slightest trace of the organs wherein will, intellect, and
initiative of action, are usually born and reside. It follows,
therefore, that all that acts in them in so admirable a fashion must
directly proceed from what we elsewhere call nature. We are no
longer concerned with the intellect of the individual; here we find
the un conscious, undivided force in the act of ensnaring other
forms of itself. Shall we on that account refuse to believe that
these snares are pure accidents, occurring in accordance with a
routine that is also incidental? We are not yet entitled to such a
deduction. It might be urged that these flowers, had these
miraculous combinations not been, would not have survived, but would
have had their place filled by others that stood in no need of
crossed fertilisation; and the non-existence of the first would have
been perceived by none, nor would the life that vibrates on the
earth have seemed less incomprehensible to us, less diverse, or less

And yet it would be difficult not to admit that acts which bear all
the appearance of acts of intelligence and prudence produce and
support these fortunate chances. Whence do they issue,--from the
being itself, or from the force whence that being draws life? I will
not say "it matters but little," for, on the contrary, to know the
answer were of supreme importance to us. But, in the meantime, and
till we shall learn whether it be the flower that endeavours to
maintain and perfect the life that nature has placed within it, or
whether it be nature that puts forth an effort to maintain and
improve the degree of existence the flower has assumed, or finally
whether it be chance that ultimately governs chance, a multitude of
semblances invite us to believe that something equal to our loftiest
thoughts issues at times from a common source, that we are compelled
to admire without knowing where it resides.

There are moments when what seems error to us comes forth from this
common source. But, although we know very few things, proofs abound
that the seeming error was in reality an act of prudence that we at
first could not grasp. In the little circle, even, that our eyes
embrace we are constantly shown that what we regarded as nature's
blunder close by was due to her deeming it well to adjust the
presumed inadvertence out yonder. She has placed the three flowers
we mentioned under conditions of such difficulty that they are
unable to fertilise themselves; she considers it beneficial,
therefore, for reasons beyond our powers of perception, that they
should cause themselves to be fertilised by their neighbours; and,
inasmuch as she enhances the intelligence of her victims, she
displays on our right the genius she failed to display on our left.
The byways of this genius of hers remain incomprehensible to us, but
its level is always the same. It will appear to fall into
error--assuming that error be possible--thereupon rising again at
once in the organ charged to repair this error. Turn where we may,
it towers high over our heads. It is the circular ocean, the
tideless water, whereon our boldest and most independent thoughts
will never be more than mere abject bubbles. We call it Nature
to-day; to-morrow, perhaps, we shall give it another name, softer or
more alarming. In the meanwhile it holds simultaneous, impartial
sway over life and death; furnishing the two irreconcilable sisters
with the magnificent and familiar weapons that adorn and distract
its bosom.


Does this force take measures to maintain what may be struggling on
its surface, or must we say, arguing in the strangest of circles,
that what floats on its surface must guard itself against the genius
that has given it life? That question must be left open. We have no
means of ascertaining whether it be notwithstanding the efforts of
the superior will, or independently of these, or lastly because of
these, that a species has been able to survive.

All we can say is that such a species exists, and that, on this
point, therefore, nature would seem to be right. But who shall tell
us how many others that we have not known have fallen victim to her
restless and forgetful intellect? Beyond this, we can recognise only
the surprising and occasionally hostile forms that the extraordinary
fluid we call life assumes, in utter unconsciousness sometimes, at
others with a kind of consciousness: the fluid which animates us
equally with all the rest, which produces the very thoughts that
judge it, and the feeble voice that attempts to tell its story.


WE will now consider the manner in which the impregnation of the
queen-bee comes to pass. Here again nature has taken extraordinary
measures to favour the union of males with females of a different
stock; a strange law, whereto nothing would seem to compel her; a
caprice, or initial inadvertence, perhaps, whose reparation calls
for the most marvellous forces her activity knows.

If she had devoted half the genius she lavishes on crossed
fertilisation and other arbitrary desires to making life more
certain, to alleviating pain, to softening death and warding off
horrible accidents, the universe would probably have presented an
enigma less incomprehensible, less pitiable, than the one we are
striving to solve. But our consciousness, and the interest we take
in existence, must grapple, not with what might have been, but with
what is.

Around the virgin queen, and dwelling with her in the hive, are
hundreds of exuberant males, forever drunk on honey; the sole reason
for their existence being one act of love. But, notwithstanding the
incessant contact of two desires that elsewhere invariably triumph
over every obstacle, the union never takes place in the hive, nor
has it been possible to bring about the impregnation of a captive

     *Professor McLain has recently succeeded in causing a few
     queens to be artificially impregnated; but this has been the
     result of a veritable surgical operation, of the most
     delicate and complicated nature. Moreover, the fertility of
     the queens was restricted and ephemeral.

While she lives in their midst the lovers about her know not what
she is. They seek her in space, in the remote depths of the horizon,
never suspecting that they have but this moment quitted her, have
shared the same comb with her, have brushed against her, perhaps, in
the eagerness of their departure. One might almost believe that
those wonderful eyes of theirs, that cover their head as though with
a glittering helmet, do not recognise or desire her save when she
soars in the blue. Each day, from noon till three, when the sun
shines resplendent, this plumed horde sallies forth in search of the
bride, who is indeed more royal, more difficult of conquest, than
the most inaccessible princess of fairy legend; for twenty or thirty
tribes will hasten from all the neighbouring cities, her court thus
consisting of more than ten thousand suitors; and from these ten
thousand one alone will be chosen for the unique kiss of an instant
that shall wed him to death no less than to happiness; while the
others will fly helplessly round the intertwined pair, and soon will
perish without ever again beholding this prodigious and fatal


I am not exaggerating this wild and amazing prodigality of nature.
The best-conducted hives will, as a rule, contain four to five
hundred males. Weaker or degenerate ones will often have as many as
four or five thousand; for the more a hive inclines to its ruin, the
more males will it produce. It may be said that, on an average, an
apiary composed of ten colonies will at a given moment send an army
of ten thousand males into the air, of whom ten or fifteen at most
will have the occasion of performing the one act for which they were

In the meanwhile they exhaust the supplies of the city; each one of
the parasites requiring the unceasing labour of five or six workers
to maintain it in its abounding and voracious idleness, its activity
being indeed solely confined to its jaws. But nature is always
magnificent when dealing with the privileges and prerogatives of
love. She becomes miserly only when doling out the organs and
instruments of labour. She is especially severe on what men have
termed virtue, whereas she strews the path of the most uninteresting
lovers with innumerable jewels and favours. "Unite and multiply;
there is no other law, or aim, than love," would seem to be her
constant cry on all sides, while she mutters to herself, perhaps:
"and exist afterwards if you can; that is no concern of mine." Do or
desire what else we may, we find, everywhere on our road, this
morality that differs so much from our own. And note, too, in these
same little creatures, her unjust avarice and insensate waste. From
her birth to her death, the austere forager has to travel abroad in
search of the myriad flowers that hide in the depths of the
thickets. She has to discover the honey and pollen that lurk in the
labyrinths of the nectaries and in the most secret recesses of the
anthers. And yet her eyes and olfactory organs are like the eyes and
organs of the infirm, compared with those of the male. Were the
drones almost blind, had they only the most rudimentary sense of
smell, they scarcely would suffer. They have nothing to do, no prey
to hunt down; their food is brought to them ready prepared, and
their existence is spent in the obscurity of the hive, lapping honey
from the comb. But they are the agents of love; and the most
enormous, most useless gifts are flung with both hands into the
abyss of the future. Out of a thousand of them, one only, once in
his life, will have to seek, in the depths of the azure, the
presence of the royal virgin. Out of a thousand one only will have,
for one instant, to follow in space the female who desires not to
escape. That suffices. The partial power flings open her treasury,
wildly, even deliriously. To every one of these unlikely lovers, of
whom nine hundred and ninety-nine will be put to death a few days
after the fatal nuptials of the thousandth, she has given thirteen
thousand eyes on each side of their head, while the worker has only
six thousand. According to Cheshire's calculations, she has provided
each of their antennae with thirty-seven thousand eight hundred
olfactory cavities, while the worker has only five thousand in both.
There we have an instance of the almost universal disproportion that
exists between the gifts she rains upon love and her niggardly doles
to labour; between the favours she accords to what shall, in an
ecstasy, create new life, and the indifference wherewith she regards
what will patiently have to maintain itself by toil. Whoever would
seek faithfully to depict the character of nature, in accordance
with the traits we discover here, would design an extraordinary
figure, very foreign to our ideal, which nevertheless can only
emanate from her. But too many things are unknown to man for him to
essay such a portrait, wherein all would be deep shadow save one or
two points of flickering light.


Very few, I imagine, have profaned the secret of the queen-bee's
wedding, which comes to pass in the infinite, radiant circles of a
beautiful sky. But we are able to witness the hesitating departure
of the bride-elect and the murderous return of the bride.

However great her impatience, she will yet choose her day and her
hour, and linger in the shadow of the portal till a marvellous
morning fling open wide the nuptial spaces in the depths of the
great azure vault. She loves the moment when drops of dew still
moisten the leaves and the flowers, when the last fragrance of dying
dawn still wrestles with burning day, like a maiden caught in the
arms of a heavy warrior; when through the silence of approaching
noon is heard, once and again, a transparent cry that has lingered
from sunrise.

Then she appears on the threshold--in the midst of indifferent
foragers, if she have left sisters in the hive; or surrounded by a
delirious throng of workers, should it be impossible to fill her

She starts her flight backwards; returns twice or thrice to the
alighting-board; and then, having definitely fixed in her mind the
exact situation and aspect of the kingdom she has never yet seen
from without, she departs like an arrow to the zenith of the blue.
She soars to a height, a luminous zone, that other bees attain at no
period of their life. Far away, caressing their idleness in the
midst of the flowers, the males have beheld the apparition, have
breathed the magnetic perfume that spreads from group to group till
every apiary near is instinct with it. Immediately crowds collect,
and follow her into the sea of gladness, whose limpid boundaries
ever recede. She, drunk with her wings, obeying the magnificent law
of the race that chooses her lover, and enacts that the strongest
alone shall attain her in the solitude of the ether, she rises
still; and, for the first time in her life, the blue morning air
rushes into her stigmata, singing its song, like the blood of
heaven, in the myriad tubes of the tracheal sacs, nourished on
space, that fill the centre of her body. She rises still. A region
must be found unhaunted by birds, that else might profane the
mystery. She rises still; and already the ill-assorted troop below
are dwindling and falling asunder. The feeble, infirm, the aged,
unwelcome, ill-fed, who have flown from inactive or impoverished
cities, these renounce the pursuit and disappear in the void. Only a
small, indefatigable cluster remain, suspended in infinite opal. She
summons her wings for one final effort; and now the chosen of
incomprehensible forces has reached her, has seized her, and
bounding aloft with united impetus, the ascending spiral of their
intertwined flight whirls for one second in the hostile madness of


Most creatures have a vague belief that a very precarious hazard, a
kind of transparent membrane, divides death from love; and that the
profound idea of nature demands that the giver of life should die at
the moment of giving. Here this idea, whose memory lingers still
over the kisses of man, is realised in its primal simplicity. No
sooner has the union been accomplished than the male's abdomen
opens, the organ detaches itself, dragging with it the mass of the
entrails; the wings relax, and, as though struck by lightning, the
emptied body turns and turns on itself and sinks down into the

The same idea that, before, in parthenogenesis, sacrificed the
future of the hive to the unwonted multiplication of males, now
sacrifices the male to the future of the hive.

This idea is always astounding; and the further we penetrate into
it, the fewer do our certitudes become. Darwin, for instance, to
take the man of all men who studied it the most methodically and
most passionately, Darwin, though scarcely confessing it to himself,
loses confidence at every step, and retreats before the unexpected
and the irreconcilable. Would you have before you the nobly
humiliating spectacle of human genius battling with infinite power,
you have but to follow Darwin's endeavours to unravel the strange,
incoherent, inconceivably mysterious laws of the sterility and
fecundity of hybrids, or of the variations of specific and generic
characters. Scarcely has he formulated a principle when numberless
exceptions assail him; and this very principle, soon completely
overwhelmed, is glad to find refuge in some corner, and preserve a
shred of existence there under the title of an exception.

For the fact is that in hybridity, in variability (notably in the
simultaneous variations known as correlations of growth), in
instinct, in the processes of vital competition, in geologic
succession and the geographic distribution of organised beings, in
mutual affinities, as indeed in every other direction, the idea of
nature reveals itself, in one and the same phenomenon and at the
very same time, as circumspect and shiftless, niggard and prodigal,
prudent and careless, fickle and stable, agitated and immovable, one
and innumerable, magnificent and squalid. There lay open before her
the immense and virgin fields of simplicity; she chose to people
them with trivial errors, with petty contradictory laws that stray
through existence like a flock of blind sheep. It is true that our
eye, before which these things happen, can only reflect a reality
proportionate to our needs and our stature; nor have we any warrant
for believing that nature ever loses sight of her wandering results
and causes.

In any event she will rarely permit them to stray too far, or
approach illogical or dangerous regions. She disposes of two forces
that never can err; and when the phenomenon shall have trespassed
beyond certain limits, she will beckon to life or to death--which
arrives, re-establishes order, and unconcernedly marks out the path


She eludes us on every side; she repudiates most of our rules and
breaks our standards to pieces. On our right she sinks far beneath
the level of our thoughts, on our left she towers mountain-high
above them. She appears to be constantly blundering, no less in the
world of her first experiments than in that of her last, of man.
There she invests with her sanction the instincts of the obscure
mass, the unconscious injustice of the multitude, the defeat of
intelligence and virtue, the uninspired morality which urges on the
great wave of the race, though manifestly inferior to the morality
that could be conceived or desired by the minds composing the small
and the clearer wave that ascends the other. And yet, can such a
mind be wrong if it ask itself whether the whole truth--moral
truths, therefore, as well as non-moral--had not better be sought in
this chaos than in itself, where these truths would seem
comparatively clear and precise?

The man who feels thus will never attempt to deny the reason or
virtue of his ideal, hallowed by so many heroes and sages; but there
are times when he will whisper to himself that this ideal has
perhaps been formed at too great a distance from the enormous mass
whose diverse beauty it would fain represent. He has, hitherto,
legitimately feared that the attempt to adapt his morality to that
of nature would risk the destruction of what was her masterpiece.
But to-day he understands her a little better; and from some of her
replies, which, though still vague, reveal an unexpected breadth, he
has been enabled to seize a glimpse of a plan and an intellect
vaster than could be conceived by his unaided imagination; wherefore
he has grown less afraid, nor feels any longer the same imperious
need of the refuge his own special virtue and reason afford him. He
concludes that what is so great could surely teach nothing that
would tend to lessen itself. He wonders whether the moment may not
have arrived for submitting to a more judicious examination his
convictions, his principles, and his dreams.

Once more, he has not the slightest desire to abandon his human
ideal. That even which at first diverts him from this ideal teaches
him to return to it. It were impossible for nature to give ill
advice to a man who declines to include in the great scheme he is
endeavouring to grasp, who declines to regard as sufficiently lofty
to be definitive, any truth that is not at least as lofty as the
truth he himself desires. Nothing shifts its place in his life save
only to rise with him; and he knows he is rising when he finds
himself drawing near to his ancient image of good. But all things
transform themselves more freely in his thoughts; and he can descend
with impunity, for he has the presentiment that numbers of
successive valleys will lead him to the plateau that he expects.
And, while he thus seeks for conviction, while his researches even
conduct him to the very reverse of that which he loves, he directs
his conduct by the most humanly beautiful truth, and clings to the
one that provisionally seems to be highest. All that may add to
beneficent virtue enters his heart at once; all that would tend to
lessen it remaining there in suspense, like insoluble salts that
change not till the hour for decisive experiment. He may accept an
inferior truth, but before he will act in accordance therewith he
will wait, if need be for centuries, until he perceive the
connection this truth must possess with truths so infinite as to
include and surpass all others.

In a word, he divides the moral from the intellectual order,
admitting in the former that only which is greater and more
beautiful than was there before. And blameworthy as it may be to
separate the two orders in cases, only too frequent in life, where
we suffer our conduct to be inferior to our thoughts, where, seeing
the good, we follow the worse--to see the worse and follow the
better, to raise our actions high over our idea, must ever be
reasonable and salutary; for human experience renders it daily more
clear that the highest thought we can attain will long be inferior
still to the mysterious truth we seek. Moreover, should nothing of
what goes before be true, a reason more simple and more familiar
would counsel him not yet to abandon his human ideal. For the more
strength he accords to the laws which would seem to set egoism,
injustice, and cruelty as examples for men to follow, the more
strength does be at the same time confer on the others that ordain
generosity, justice, and pity; and these last laws are found to
contain something as profoundly natural as the first, the moment he
begins to equalise, or allot more methodically, the share he
attributes to the universe and to himself.


Let us return to the tragic nuptials of the queen. Here it is
evidently nature's wish, in the interests of crossed fertilisation,
that the union of the drone and the queen-bee should be possible
only in the open sky. But her desires blend network-fashion, and her
most valued laws have to pass through the meshes of other laws,
which, in their turn, the moment after, are compelled to pass
through the first.

In the sky she has planted so many dangers--cold winds,
storm-currents, birds, insects, drops of water, all of which also
obey invincible laws--that she must of necessity arrange for this
union to be as brief as possible. It is so, thanks to the
startlingly sudden death of the male. One embrace suffices; the rest
all enacts itself in the very flanks of the bride.

She descends from the azure heights and returns to the hive,
trailing behind her, like an oriflamme, the unfolded entrails of her
lover. Some writers pretend that the bees manifest great joy at this
return so big with promise--Buchner, among others, giving a detailed
account of it. I have many a time lain in wait for the queen-bee's
return, and I confess that I have never noticed any unusual emotion
except in the case of a young queen who had gone forth at the head
of a swarm, and represented the unique hope of a newly founded and
still empty city. In that instance the workers were all wildly
excited, and rushed to meet her. But as a rule they appear to forget
her, even though the future of their city will often be no less
imperilled. They act with consistent prudence in all things, till
the moment when they authorise the massacre of the rival queens.
That point reached, their instinct halts; and there is, as it were,
a gap in their foresight.--They appear to be wholly indifferent.
They raise their heads; recognise, probably, the murderous tokens of
impregnation; but, still mistrustful, manifest none of the gladness
our expectation had pictured. Being positive in their ways, and slow
at illusion, they probably need further proofs before permitting
themselves to rejoice. Why endeavour to render too logical, or too
human, the feelings of little creatures so different from ourselves?
Neither among the bees nor among any other animals that have a ray
of our intellect, do things happen with the precision our books
record. Too many circumstances remain unknown to us. Why try to
depict the bees as more perfect than they are, by saying that which
is not? Those who would deem them more interesting did they resemble
ourselves, have not yet truly realised what it is that should awaken
the interest of a sincere mind. The aim of the observer is not to
surprise, but to comprehend; and to point out the gaps existing in
an intellect, and the signs of a cerebral organisation different
from our own, is more curious by far than the relating of mere
marvels concerning it.

But this indifference is not shared by all; and when the breathless
queen has reached the alighting-board, some groups will form and
accompany her into the hive; where the sun, hero of every festivity
in which the bees take part, is entering with little timid steps,
and bathing in azure and shadow the waxen walls and curtains of
honey. Nor does the new bride, indeed, show more concern than her
people, there being not room for many emotions in her narrow,
barbarous, practical brain. She has but one thought, which is to rid
herself as quickly as possible of the embarrassing souvenirs her
consort has left her, whereby her movements are hampered. She seats
herself on the threshold, and carefully strips off the useless
organs, that are borne far away by the workers; for the male has
given her all he possessed, and much more than she requires. She
retains only, in her spermatheca, the seminal liquid where millions
of germs are floating, which, until her last day, will issue one by
one, as the eggs pass by, and in the obscurity of her body
accomplish the mysterious union of the male and female element,
whence the worker-bees are born. Through a curious inversion, it is
she who furnishes the male principle, and the drone who provides the
female. Two days after the union she lays her first eggs, and her
people immediately surround her with the most particular care. From
that moment, possessed of a dual sex, having within her an
inexhaustible male, she begins her veritable life; she will never
again leave the hive, unless to accompany a swarm; and her fecundity
will cease only at the approach of death.


Prodigious nuptials these, the most fairylike that can be conceived,
azure and tragic, raised high above life by the impetus of desire;
imperishable and terrible, unique and bewildering, solitary and
infinite. An admirable ecstasy, wherein death supervening in all
that our sphere has of most limpid and loveliest, in virginal,
limitless space, stamps the instant of happiness in the sublime
transparence of the great sky; purifying in that immaculate light
the something of wretchedness that always hovers around love,
rendering the kiss one that can never be forgotten; and, content
this time with moderate tithe, proceeding herself, with hands that
are almost maternal, to introduce and unite, in one body, for a long
and inseparable future, two little fragile lives.

Profound truth has not this poetry, but possesses another that we
are less apt to grasp, which, however, we should end, perhaps, by
understanding and loving. Nature has not gone out of her way to
provide these two "abbreviated atoms," as Pascal would call them,
with a resplendent marriage, or an ideal moment of love. Her
concern, as we have said, was merely to improve the race by means of
crossed fertilisation. To ensure this she has contrived the organ of
the male in such a fashion that he can make use of it only in space.
A prolonged flight must first expand his two great tracheal sacs;
these enormous receptacles being gorged on air will throw back the
lower part of the abdomen, and permit the exsertion of the organ.
There we have the whole physiological secret--which will seem
ordinary enough to some, and almost vulgar to others--of this
dazzling pursuit and these magnificent nuptials.


"But must we always, then," the poet will wonder, "rejoice in
regions that are loftier than the truth?"

Yes, in all things, at all times, let us rejoice, not in regions
loftier than the truth, for that were impossible, but in regions
higher than the little truths that our eye can seize. Should a
chance, a recollection, an illusion, a passion,--in a word, should
any motive whatever cause an object to reveal itself to us in a more
beautiful light than to others, let that motive be first of all dear
to us. It may only be error, perhaps; but this error will not
prevent the moment wherein this object appears the most admirable to
us from being the moment wherein we are likeliest to perceive its
real beauty. The beauty we lend it directs our attention to its
veritable beauty and grandeur, which, derived as they are from the
relation wherein every object must of necessity stand to general,
eternal, forces and laws, might otherwise escape observation. The
faculty of admiring which an illusion may have created within us
will serve for the truth that must come, be it sooner or later. It
is with the words, the feelings, and ardour created by ancient and
imaginary beauties, that humanity welcomes today truths which
perhaps would have never been born, which might not have been able
to find so propitious a home, had these sacrificed illusions not
first of all dwelt in, and kindled, the heart and the reason
whereinto these truths should descend. Happy the eyes that need no
illusion to see that the spectacle is great! It is illusion that
teaches the others to look, to admire, and rejoice. And look as high
as they will, they never can look too high. Truth rises as they draw
nearer; they draw nearer when they admire. And whatever the heights
may be whereon they rejoice, this rejoicing can never take place in
the void, or above the unknown and eternal truth that rests over all
things like beauty in suspense.


Does this mean that we should attach ourselves to falsehood, to an
unreal and factitious poetry, and find our gladness therein for want
of anything better? Or that in the example before us--in itself
nothing, but we dwell on it because it stands for a thousand others,
as also for our entire attitude in face of divers orders of
truths--that here we should ignore the physiological explanation,
and retain and taste only the emotions of this nuptial flight, which
is yet, and whatever the cause, one of the most lyrical, most
beautiful acts of that suddenly disinterested, irresistible force
which all living creatures obey and are wont to call love? That were
too childish; nor is it possible, thanks to the excellent habits
every loyal mind has today acquired.

The fact being incontestable, we must evidently admit that the
exsertion of the organ is rendered possible only by the expansion of
the tracheal vesicles. But if we, content with this fact, did not
let our eyes roam beyond it; if we deduced therefrom that every
thought that rises too high or wanders too far must be of necessity
wrong, and that truth must be looked for only in the material
details; if we did not seek, no matter where, in uncertainties often
far greater than the one this little explanation has solved, in the
strange mystery of crossed fertilisation for instance, or in the
perpetuity of the race and life, or in the scheme of nature; if we
did not seek in these for something beyond the current explanation,
something that should prolong it, and conduct us to the beauty and
grandeur that repose in the unknown, I would almost venture to
assert that we should pass our existence further away from the truth
than those, even, who in this case wilfully shut their eyes to all
save the poetic and wholly imaginary interpretation of these
marvellous nuptials. They evidently misjudge the form and colour of
the truth, but they live in its atmosphere and its influence far
more than the others, who complacently believe that the entire truth
lies captive within their two hands. For the first have made ample
preparations to receive the truth, have provided most hospitable
lodging within them; and even though their eyes may not see it, they
are eagerly looking towards the beauty and grandeur where its
residence surely must be.

We know nothing of nature's aim, which for us is the truth that
dominates every other. But for the very love of this truth, and to
preserve in our soul the ardour we need for its search, it behoves
us to deem it great. And if we should find one day that we have been
on a wrong road, that this aim is incoherent and petty, we shall
have discovered its pettiness by means of the very zeal its presumed
grandeur had created within us; and this pettiness once established,
it will teach us what we have to do. In the meanwhile it cannot be
unwise to devote to its search the most strenuous, daring efforts of
our heart and our reason. And should the last word of all this be
wretched, it will be no little achievement to have laid bare the
inanity and the pettiness of the aim of nature.

"There is no truth for us yet," a great physiologist of our day
remarked to me once, as I walked with him in the country; "there is
no truth yet, but there are everywhere three very good semblances of
truth. Each man makes his own choice, or rather, perhaps, has it
thrust upon him; and this choice, whether it be thrust upon him, or
whether, as is often the case, he have made it without due
reflection, this choice, to which he clings, will determine the form
and the conduct of all that enters within him. The friend whom we
meet, the woman who approaches and smiles, the love that unlocks our
heart, the death or sorrow that seals it, the September sky above
us, this superb and delightful garden, wherein we see, as in
Corneille's 'Psyche,' bowers of greenery resting on gilded statues,
and the flocks grazing yonder, with their shepherd asleep, and the
last houses of the village, and the sea between the trees,--all
these are raised or degraded before they enter within us, are
adorned or despoiled, in accordance with the little signal this
choice of ours makes to them. We must learn to select from among
these semblances of truth. I have spent my own life in eager search
for the smaller truths, the physical causes; and now, at the end of
my days, I begin to cherish, not what would lead me from these, but
what would precede them, and, above all, what would somewhat surpass
them." We had attained the summit of a plateau in the "pays de
Caux," in Normandy, which is supple as an English park, but natural
and limitless. It is one of the rare spots on the globe where nature
reveals herself to us unfailingly wholesome and green. A little
further to the north the country is threatened with barrenness, a
little further to the south, it is fatigued and scorched by the sun.
At the end of a plain that ran down to the edge of the sea, some
peasants were erecting a stack of corn. "Look," he said, "seen from
here, they are beautiful. They are constructing that simple and yet
so important thing, which is above all else the happy and almost
unvarying monument of human life taking root--a stack of corn. The
distance, the air of the evening, weave their joyous cries into a
kind of song without words, which replies to the noble song of the
leaves as they whisper over our heads. Above them the sky is
magnificent; and one almost might fancy that beneficent spirits,
waving palm-trees of fire, had swept all the light towards the
stack, to give the workers more time. And the track of the palms
still remains in the sky. See the humble church by their side,
overlooking and watching them, in the midst of the rounded lime
trees and the grass of the homely graveyard, that faces its native
ocean. They are fitly erecting their monument of life underneath the
monuments of their dead, who made the same gestures and still are
with them. Take in the whole picture. There are no special,
characteristic features, such as we find in England, Provence, or
Holland. It is the presentment, large and ordinary enough to be
symbolic, of a natural and happy life. Observe how rhythmic human
existence becomes in its useful moments. Look at the man who is
leading the horses, at that other who throws up the sheaves on his
fork, at the women bending over the corn, and the children at play.
... They have not displaced a stone, or removed a spadeful of
earth, to add to the beauty of the scenery; nor do they take one
step, plant a tree or a flower, that is not necessary. All that we
see is merely the involuntary result of the effort that man puts
forth to subsist for a moment in nature; and yet those among us
whose desire is only to create or imagine spectacles of peace, deep
thoughtfulness, or beatitude, have been able to find no scene more
perfect than this, which indeed they paint or describe whenever they
seek to present us with a picture of beauty or happiness. Here we
have the first semblance, which some will call the truth."


"Let us draw nearer. Can you distinguish the song that blended so
well with the whispering of the leaves? It is made up of abuse and
insult; and when laughter bursts forth, it is due to an obscene
remark some man or woman has made, to a jest at the expense of the
weaker,--of the hunchback unable to lift his load, the cripple they
have knocked over, or the idiot whom they make their butt.

"I have studied these people for many years. We are in Normandy; the
soil is rich and easily tilled. Around this stack of corn there is
rather more comfort than one would usually associate with a scene of
this kind. The result is that most of the men, and many of the
women, are alcoholic. Another poison also, which I need not name,
corrodes the race. To that, to the alcohol, are due the children
whom you see there: the dwarf, the one with the hare-lip, the others
who are knock-kneed, scrofulous, imbecile. All of them, men and
women, young and old, have the ordinary vices of the peasant. They
are brutal, suspicious, grasping, and envious; hypocrites, liars,
and slanderers; inclined to petty, illicit profits, mean
interpretations, and coarse flattery of the stronger. Necessity
brings them together, and compels them to help each other; but the
secret wish of every individual is to harm his neighbour as soon as
this can be done without danger to himself. The one substantial
pleasure of the village is procured by the sorrows of others. Should
a great disaster befall one of them, it will long be the subject of
secret, delighted comment among the rest. Every man watches his
fellow, is jealous of him, detests and despises him. While they are
poor, they hate their masters with a boiling and pent-up hatred
because of the harshness and avarice these last display; should they
in their turn have servants, they profit by their own experience of
servitude to reveal a harshness and avarice greater even than that
from which they have suffered. I could give you minutest details of
the meanness, deceit, injustice, tyranny, and malice that underlie
this picture of ethereal, peaceful toil. Do not imagine that the
sight of this marvellous sky, of the sea which spreads out yonder
behind the church and presents another, more sensitive sky, flowing
over the earth like a great mirror of wisdom and consciousness--do
not imagine that either sea or sky is capable of lifting their
thoughts or widening their minds. They have never looked at them.
Nothing has power to influence or move them save three or four
circumscribed fears, that of hunger, of force, of opinion and law,
and the terror of hell when they die. To show what they are, we
should have to consider them one by one. See that tall fellow there
on the right, who flings up such mighty sheaves. Last summer his
friends broke his right arm in some tavern row. I reduced the
fracture, which was a bad and compound one. I tended him for a long
time, and gave him the wherewithal to live till he should be able to
get back to work. He came to me every day. He profited by this to
spread the report in the village that he had discovered me in the
arms of my sister-in-law, and that my mother drank. He is not
vicious, he bears me no ill-will; on the contrary, see what a broad,
open smile spreads over his face as he sees me. It was not social
animosity that induced him to slander me. The peasant values wealth
far too much to hate the rich man. But I fancy my good corn-thrower
there could not understand my tending him without any profit to
myself. He was satisfied that there must be some underhand scheme,
and he declined to be my dupe. More than one before him, richer or
poorer, has acted in similar fashion, if not worse. It did not occur
to him that he was lying when he spread those inventions abroad; he
merely obeyed a confused command of the morality he saw about him.
He yielded unconsciously, against his will, as it were, to the
all-powerful desire of the general malevolence.... But why
complete a picture with which all are familiar who have spent some
years in the country? Here we have the second semblance that some
will call the real truth. It is the truth of practical life. It
undoubtedly is based on the most precise, the only, facts that one
can observe and test."


"Let us sit on these sheaves," he continued, "and look again. Let us
reject not a single one of the little facts that build up the
reality of which I have spoken. Let us permit them to depart of
their own accord into space. They cumber the foreground, and yet we
cannot but be aware of the existence behind them of a great and very
curious force that sustains the whole. Does it only sustain and not
raise? These men whom we see before us are at least no longer the
ferocious animals of whom La Bruyere speaks, the wretches who talked
in a kind of inarticulate voice, and withdrew at night to their
dens, where they lived on black bread, water, and roots.

"The race, you will tell me, is neither as strong nor as healthy.
That may be; alcohol and the other scourge are accidents that
humanity has to surmount; ordeals, it may be, by which certain of
our organs, those of the nerves, for instance, may benefit; for we
invariably find that life profits by the ills that it overcomes.
Besides, a mere trifle that we may discover to-morrow may render
these poisons innocuous. These men have thoughts and feelings that
those of whom La Bruyere speaks had not." "I prefer the simple,
naked animal to the odious half-animal," I murmured. "You are
thinking of the first semblance now," he replied, "the semblance
dear to the poet, that we saw before; let us not confuse it with the
one we are now considering. These thoughts and feelings are petty,
if you will, and vile; but what is petty and vile is still better
than that which is not at all. Of these thoughts and feelings they
avail themselves only to hurt each other, and to persist in their
present mediocrity; but thus does it often happen in nature. The
gifts she accords are employed for evil at first, for the rendering
worse what she had apparently sought to improve; but, from this
evil, a certain good will always result in the end. Besides, I am by
no means anxious to prove that there has been progress, which may be
a very small thing or a very great thing, according to the place
whence we regard it. It is a vast achievement, the surest ideal,
perhaps, to render the condition of men a little less servile, a
little less painful; but let the mind detach itself for an instant
from material results, and the difference between the man who
marches in the van of progress and the other who is blindly dragged
at its tail ceases to be very considerable. Among these young
rustics, whose mind is haunted only by formless ideas, there are
many who have in themselves the possibility of attaining, in a short
space of time, the degree of consciousness that we both enjoy. One
is often struck by the narrowness of the dividing line between what
we regard as the unconsciousness of these people and the
consciousness that to us is the highest of all."

"Besides, of what is this consciousness composed, whereof we are so
proud? Of far more shadow than light, of far more acquired ignorance
than knowledge; of far more things whose comprehension, we are well
aware, must ever elude us, than of things that we actually know. And
yet in this consciousness lies all our dignity, our most veritable
greatness; it is probably the most surprising phenomenon this world
contains. It is this which permits us to raise our head before the
unknown principle, and say to it: 'What you are I know not; but
there is something within me that already enfolds you. You will
destroy me, perhaps, but if your object be not to construct from my
ruins an organism better than mine, you will prove yourself inferior
to what I am; and the silence that will follow the death of the race
to which I belong will declare to you that you have been judged. And
if you are not capable even of caring whether you be justly judged
or not, of what value can your secret be? It must be stupid or
hideous. Chance has enabled you to produce a creature that you
yourself lacked the quality to produce. It is fortunate for him that
a contrary chance should have permitted you to suppress him before
he had fathomed the depths of your unconsciousness; more fortunate
still that he does not survive the infinite series of your awful
experiments. He had nothing to do in a world where his intellect
corresponded to no eternal intellect, where his desire for the
better could attain no actual good.'

"Once more, for the spectacle to absorb us, there is no need of
progress. The enigma suffices; and that enigma is as great, and
shines as mysteriously, in the peasants as in ourselves. As we trace
life back to its all-powerful principle, it confronts us on every
side. To this principle each succeeding century has given a new
name. Some of these names were clear and consoling. It was found,
however, that consolation and clearness were alike illusory. But
whether we call it God, Providence, Nature, chance, life, fatality,
spirit, or matter, the mystery remains unaltered; and from the
experience of thousands of years we have learned nothing more than
to give it a vaster name, one nearer to ourselves, more congruous
with our expectation, with the unforeseen.

"That is the name it bears to-day, wherefore it has never seemed
greater. Here we have one of the numberless aspects of the third
semblance, which also is truth."



IF skies remain clear, the air warm, and pollen and nectar abound in
the flowers, the workers, through a kind of forgetful indulgence, or
over-scrupulous prudence perhaps, will for a short time longer
endure the importunate, disastrous presence of the males. These
comport themselves in the hive as did Penelope's suitors in the
house of Ulysses. Indelicate and wasteful, sleek and corpulent,
fully content with their idle existence as honorary lovers, they
feast and carouse, throng the alleys, obstruct the passages, and
hinder the work; jostling and jostled, fatuously pompous, swelled
with foolish, good-natured contempt; harbouring never a suspicion of
the deep and calculating scorn wherewith the workers regard them, of
the constantly growing hatred to which they give rise, or of the
destiny that awaits them. For their pleasant slumbers they select
the snuggest corners of the hive; then, rising carelessly, they
flock to the open cells where the honey smells sweetest, and soil
with their excrements the combs they frequent. The patient workers,
their eyes steadily fixed on the future, will silently set things
right. From noon till three, when the purple country trembles in
blissful lassitude beneath the invincible gaze of a July or August
sun, the drones will appear on the threshold. They have a helmet
made of enormous black pearls, two lofty, quivering plumes, a
doublet of iridescent, yellowish velvet, an heroic tuft, and a
fourfold mantle, translucent and rigid. They create a prodigious
stir, brush the sentry aside, overturn the cleaners, and collide
with the foragers as these return laden with their humble spoil.
They have the busy air, the extravagant, contemptuous gait, of
indispensable gods who should be simultaneously venturing towards
some destiny unknown to the vulgar. One by one they sail off into
space, irresistible, glorious, and tranquilly make for the nearest
flowers, where they sleep till the afternoon freshness awake them.
Then, with the same majestic pomp, and still overflowing with
magnificent schemes, they return to the hive, go straight to the
cells, plunge their head to the neck in the vats of honey, and fill
themselves tight as a drum to repair their exhausted strength;
whereupon, with heavy steps, they go forth to meet the good,
dreamless and careless slumber that shall fold them in its embrace
till the time for the next repast.


But the patience of the bees is not equal to that of men. One
morning the long-expected word of command goes through the hive; and
the peaceful workers turn into judges and executioners. Whence this
word issues, we know not; it would seem to emanate suddenly from the
cold, deliberate indignation of the workers; and no sooner has it
been uttered than every heart throbs with it, inspired with the
genius of the unanimous republic. One part of the people renounce
their foraging duties to devote themselves to the work of justice.
The great idle drones, asleep in unconscious groups on the
melliferous walls, are rudely torn from their slumbers by an army of
wrathful virgins. They wake, in pious wonder; they cannot believe
their eyes; and their astonishment struggles through their sloth as
a moonbeam through marshy water. They stare amazedly round them,
convinced that they must be victims of some mistake; and the
mother-idea of their life being first to assert itself in their dull
brain, they take a step towards the vats of honey to seek comfort
there. But ended for them are the days of May honey, the wine-flower
of lime trees and fragrant ambrosia of thyme and sage, of marjoram
and white clover. Where the path once lay open to the kindly,
abundant reservoirs, that so invitingly offered their waxen and
sugary mouths, there stands now a burning-bush all alive with
poisonous, bristling stings. The atmosphere of the city is changed;
in lieu of the friendly perfume of honey, the acrid odour of poison
prevails; thousands of tiny drops glisten at the end of the stings,
and diffuse rancour and hatred. Before the bewildered parasites are
able to realise that the happy laws of the city have crumbled,
dragging down in most inconceivable fashion their own plentiful
destiny, each one is assailed by three or four envoys of justice;
and these vigorously proceed to cut off his wings, saw through the
petiole that connects the abdomen with the thorax, amputate the
feverish antennae, and seek an opening between the rings of his
cuirass through which to pass their sword. No defence is attempted
by the enormous, but unarmed, creatures; they try to escape, or
oppose their mere bulk to the blows that rain down upon them. Forced
on to their back, with their relentless enemies clinging doggedly to
them, they will use their powerful claws to shift them from side to
side; or, turning on themselves, they will drag the whole group
round and round in wild circles, which exhaustion soon brings to an
end. And, in a very brief space, their appearance becomes so
deplorable that pity, never far from justice in the depths of our
heart, quickly returns, and would seek forgiveness, though vainly,
of the stern workers who recognise only nature's harsh and profound
laws. The wings of the wretched creatures are torn, their antennae
bitten, the segments of their legs wrenched off; and their
magnificent eyes, mirrors once of the exuberant flowers, flashing
back the blue light and the innocent pride of summer, now, softened
by suffering, reflect only the anguish and distress of their end.
Some succumb to their wounds, and are at once borne away to distant
cemeteries by two or three of their executioners. Others, whose
injuries are less, succeed in sheltering themselves in some corner,
where they lie, all huddled together, surrounded by an inexorable
guard, until they perish of want. Many will reach the door, and
escape into space dragging their adversaries with them; but, towards
evening, impelled by hunger and cold, they return in crowds to the
entrance of the hive to beg for shelter. But there they encounter
another pitiless guard. The next morning, before setting forth on
their journey, the workers will clear the threshold, strewn with the
corpses of the useless giants; and all recollection of the idle race
disappear till the following spring.


In very many colonies of the apiary this massacre will often take
place on the same day. The richest, best-governed hive will give the
signal; to be followed, some days after, by the little and less
prosperous republics. Only the poorest, weakest colonies--those
whose mother is very old and almost sterile--will preserve their
males till the approach of winter, so as not to abandon the hope of
procuring the impregnation of the virgin queen they await, and who
may yet be born. Inevitable misery follows; and all the
tribe--mother, parasites, workers--collect in a hungry and closely
intertwined group, who perish in silence before the first snows
arrive, in the obscurity of the hive.

In the wealthy and populous cities work is resumed after the
execution of the drones,--although with diminishing zeal, for
flowers are becoming scarce. The great festivals, the great dramas,
are over. The autumn honey, however, that shall complete the
indispensable provisions, is accumulating within the hospitable
walls; and the last reservoirs are sealed with the seal of white,
incorruptible wax. Building ceases, births diminish, deaths
multiply; the nights lengthen, and days grow shorter. Rain and
inclement winds, the mists of the morning, the ambushes laid by a
hastening twilight, carry off hundreds of workers who never return;
and soon, over the whole little people, that are as eager for
sunshine as the grasshoppers of Attica, there hangs the cold menace
of winter.

Man has already taken his share of the harvest. Every good hive has
presented him with eighty or a hundred pounds of honey; the most
remarkable will sometimes even give two hundred, which represent an
enormous expanse of liquefied light, immense fields of flowers that
have been visited daily one or two thousand times. He throws a last
glance over the colonies, which are becoming torpid. From the
richest he takes their superfluous wealth to distribute it among
those whom misfortune, unmerited always in this laborious world, may
have rendered necessitous. He covers the dwellings, half closes the
doors, removes the useless frames, and leaves the bees to their long
winter sleep. They gather in the centre of the hive, contract
themselves, and cling to the combs that contain the faithful urns;
whence there shall issue, during days of frost, the transmuted
substance of summer. The queen is in the midst of them, surrounded
by her guard. The first row of the workers attach themselves to the
sealed cells; a second row cover the first, a third the second, and
so in succession to the last row of all, which form the envelope.
When the bees of this envelope feel the cold stealing over them,
they re-enter the mass, and others take their place. The suspended
cluster is like a sombre sphere that the walls of the comb divide;
it rises imperceptibly and falls, it advances or retires, in
proportion as the cells grow empty to which it clings. For, contrary
to what is generally believed, the winter life of the bee is not
arrested, although it be slackened. By the concerted beating of
their wings--little sisters that have survived the flames of the
sun--which go quickly or slowly in accordance as the temperature
without may vary, they maintain in their sphere an unvarying warmth,
equal to that of a day in spring. This secret spring comes from the
beautiful honey, itself but a ray of heat transformed, that returns
now to its first condition. It circulates in the hive like generous
blood. The bees at the full cells present it to their neighbours,
who pass it on in their turn. Thus it goes from hand to hand and
from mouth to mouth, till it attain the extremity of the group in
whose thousands of hearts one destiny, one thought, is scattered and
united. It stands in lieu of the sun and the flowers, till its elder
brother, the veritable sun of the real, great spring, peering
through the half-open door, glides in his first softened glances,
wherein anemones and violets are coming to life again; and gently
awakens the workers, showing them that the sky once more is blue in
the world, and that the uninterrupted circle that joins death to
life has turned and begun afresh.



BEFORE closing this book--as we have closed the hive on the torpid
silence of winter--I am anxious to meet the objection invariably
urged by those to whom we reveal the astounding industry and policy
of the bees. Yes, they will say, that is all very wonderful; but
then, it has never been otherwise. The bees have for thousands of
years dwelt under remarkable laws, but during those thousands of
years the laws have not varied. For thousands of years they have
constructed their marvellous combs, whereto we can add nothing,
wherefrom we can take nothing,--combs that unite in equal perfection
the science of the chemist, the geometrician, the architect, and the
engineer; but on the sarcophagi, on Egyptian stones and papyri, we
find drawings of combs that are identical in every particular. Name
a single fact that will show the least progress, a single instance
of their having contrived some new feature or modified their
habitual routine, and we will cheerfully yield, and admit that they
not only possess an admirable instinct, but have also an intellect
worthy to approach that of man, worthy to share in one knows not
what higher destiny than awaits unconscious and submissive matter.

This language is not even confined to the profane; it is made use of
by entomologists of the rank of Kirby and Spence, in order to deny
the bees the possession of intellect other than may vaguely stir
within the narrow prison of an extraordinary but unchanging
instinct. "Show us," they say, "a single case where the pressure of
events has inspired them with the idea, for instance, of
substituting clay or mortar for wax or propolis; show us this, and
we will admit their capacity for reasoning."

This argument, that Romanes refers to as the "question-begging
argument," and that might also be termed the "insatiable argument,"
is exceedingly dangerous, and, if applied to man, would take us very
far. Examine it closely, and you find that it emanates from the
"mere common-sense," which is often so harmful; the "common-sense"
that replied to Galileo: "The earth does not turn, for I can see the
sun move in the sky, rise in the morning and sink in the evening;
and nothing can prevail over the testimony of my eyes." Common-sense
makes an admirable, and necessary, background for the mind; but
unless it be watched by a lofty disquiet ever ready to remind it,
when occasion demand, of the infinity of its ignorance, it dwindles
into the mere routine of the baser side of our intellect. But the
bees have themselves answered the objection Messrs. Kirby and Spence
advanced. Scarcely had it been formulated when another naturalist,
Andrew Knight, having covered the bark of some diseased trees with a
kind of cement made of turpentine and wax, discovered that his bees
were entirely renouncing the collection of propolis, and exclusively
using this unknown matter, which they had quickly tested and
adopted, and found in abundant quantities, ready prepared, in the
vicinity of their dwelling.

And indeed, one-half of the science and practice of apiculture
consists in giving free rein to the spirit of initiative possessed
by the bees, and in providing their enterprising intellect with
opportunities for veritable discoveries and veritable inventions.
Thus, for instance, to aid in the rearing of the larvae and nymphs,
the bee-keeper will scatter a certain quantity of flour close to the
hive when the pollen is scarce of which these consume an enormous
quantity. In a state of nature, in the heart of their native forests
in the Asiatic valleys, where they existed probably long before the
tertiary epoch, the bees can evidently never have met with a
substance of this kind. And yet, if care be taken to "bait" some of
them with it, by placing them on the flour, they will touch it and
test it, they will perceive that its properties more or less
resemble those possessed by the dust of the anthers; they will
spread the news among their sisters, and we shall soon find every
forager hastening to this unexpected, incomprehensible food, which,
in their hereditary memory, must be inseparable from the calyx of
flowers where their flight, for so many centuries past, has been
sumptuously and voluptuously welcomed.


It is a little more than a hundred years ago that Huber's researches
gave the first serious impetus to our study of the bees, and
revealed the elementary important truths that allowed us to observe
them with fruitful result. Barely fifty years have passed since the
foundation of rational, practical apiculture was rendered possible
by means of the movable combs and frames devised by Dzierzon and
Langstroth, and the hive ceased to be the inviolable abode wherein
all came to pass in a mystery from which death alone stripped the
veil. And lastly, less than fifty years have elapsed since the
improvements of the microscope, of the entomologist's laboratory,
revealed the precise secret of the principal organs of the workers,
of the mother, and the males. Need we wonder if our knowledge be as
scanty as our experience? The bees have existed many thousands of
years; we have watched them for ten or twelve lustres. And if it
could even be proved that no change has occurred in the hive since
we first opened it, should we have the right to conclude that
nothing had changed before our first questioning glance? Do we not
know that in the evolution of species a century is but as a drop of
rain that is caught in the whirl of the river, and that millenaries
glide as swiftly over the life of universal matter as single years
over the history of a people?


But there is no warrant for the statement that the habits of the
bees are unchanged. If we examine them with an unbiassed eye, and
without emerging from the small area lit by our actual experience,
we shall, on the contrary, discover marked variations. And who shall
tell how many escape us? Were an observer of a hundred and fifty
times our height and about seven hundred and fifty thousand times
our importance (these being the relations of stature and weight in
which we stand to the humble honey-fly), one who knew not our
language, and was endowed with senses totally different from our
own; were such an one to have been studying us, he would recognise
certain curious material transformations in the course of the last
two thirds of the century, but would be totally unable to form any
conception of our moral, social, political, economic or religious

The most likely of all the scientific hypotheses will presently
permit us to connect our domestic bee with the great tribe of the
"Apiens," which embraces all wild bees, and where its ancestors are
probably to be found. We shall then perceive physiological, social,
economic, industrial, and architectural transformations more
extraordinary than those of our human evolution. But for the moment
we will limit ourselves to our domestic bee properly so called. Of
these sixteen fairly distinct species are known; but, essentially,
whether we consider the Apis Dorsata, the largest known to us, or
the Apis Florea, which is the smallest, the insect is always exactly
the same, except for the slight modifications induced by the climate
and by the conditions whereto it has had to conform.*

    *The scientific classification of the domestic bee is as follows:

    Class....... Insecta

    Order....... Hymenoptera

    Family...... Apidae

    Genus....... Apis

    Species..... Mellifica

The term "Mellifica" is that of the Linnaean classification. It is
not of the happiest, for all the Apidae, with the exception of
certain parasites perhaps, are producers of honey. Scopoli uses the
term "Cerifera "; Reaumur "Domestica "; Geoffroy "Gregaria." The
"Apis Ligustica," the Italian bee, is another variety of the

The difference between these various species is scarcely greater
than that between an Englishman and a Russian, a Japanese and a
European. In these preliminary remarks, therefore, we will confine
ourselves to what actually lies within the range of our eyes,
refusing the aid of hypothesis, be this never so probable or so
imperious. We shall mention no facts that are not susceptible of
immediate proof; and of such facts we will only rapidly refer to
some of the more significant.


Let us consider first of all the most important and most radical
improvement, one that in the case of man would have called for
prodigious labour: the external protection of the community.

The bees do not, like ourselves, dwell in towns free to the sky, and
exposed to the caprice of rain and storm, but in cities entirely
covered with a protecting envelope. In a state of nature, however,
in an ideal climate, this is not the case. If they listened only to
their essential instinct, they would construct their combs in the
open air. In the Indies, the Apis Dorsata will not eagerly seek
hollow trees, or a hole in the rocks. The swarm will hang from the
crook of a branch; and the comb will be lengthened, the queen lay
her eggs, provisions be stored, with no shelter other than that
which the workers' own bodies provide. Our Northern bees have at
times been known to revert to this instinct, under the deceptive
influence of a too gentle sky; and swarms have been found living in
the heart of a bush. But even in the Indies, the result of this
habit, which would seem innate, is by no means favourable. So
considerable a number of the workers are compelled to remain on one
spot, occupied solely with the maintenance of the heat required by
those who are moulding the wax and rearing the brood, that the Apis
Dorsata, hanging thus from the branches, will construct but a single
comb; whereas if she have the least shelter she will erect four or
five, or more, and will proportionately increase the prosperity and
the population of the colony. And indeed we find that all species of
bees existing in cold and temperate regions have abandoned this
primitive method. The intelligent initiative of the insect has
evidently received the sanction of natural selection, which has
allowed only the most numerous and best protected tribes to survive
our winters. What had been merely an idea, therefore, and opposed to
instinct, has thus by slow degrees become an instinctive habit. But
it is none the less true that in forsaking the vast light of nature
that was so dear to them and seeking shelter in the obscure hollow
of a tree or a cavern, the bees have followed what at first was an
audacious idea, based on observation, probably, on experience and
reasoning. And this idea might be almost declared to have been as
important to the destinies of the domestic bee as was the invention
of fire to the destinies of man.


This great progress, not the less actual for being hereditary and
ancient, was followed by an infinite variety of details which prove
that the industry, and even the policy, of the hive have not
crystallised into infrangible formulae. We have already mentioned
the intelligent substitution of flour for pollen, and of an
artificial cement for propolis. We have seen with what skill the
bees are able to adapt to their needs the occasionally disconcerting
dwellings into which they are introduced, and the surprising
adroitness wherewith they turn combs of foundation-wax to good
account. They display extraordinary ingenuity in their manner of
handling these marvellous combs, which are so strangely useful, and
yet incomplete. In point of fact, they meet man half-way. Let us
imagine that we had for centuries past been erecting cities, not
with stones, bricks, and lime, but with some pliable substance
painfully secreted by special organs of our body. One day an
all-powerful being places us in the midst of a fabulous city. We
recognise that it is made of a substance similar to the one that we
secrete, but, as regards the rest, it is a dream, whereof what is
logical is so distorted, so reduced, and as it were concentrated, as
to be more disconcerting almost than had it been incoherent. Our
habitual plan is there; in fact, we find everything that we had
expected; but all has been put together by some antecedent force
that would seem to have crushed it, arrested it in the mould, and to
have hindered its completion. The houses whose height must attain
some four or five yards are the merest protuberances, that our two
hands can cover. Thousands of walls are indicated by signs that hint
at once of their plan and material. Elsewhere there are marked
deviations, which must be corrected; gaps to be filled and
harmoniously joined to the rest, vast surfaces that are unstable and
will need support. The enterprise is hopeful, but full of hardship
and danger. It would seem to have been conceived by some sovereign
intelligence, that was able to divine most of our desires, but has
executed them clumsily, being hampered by its very vastness. We must
disentangle, therefore, what now is obscure, we must develop the
least intentions of the supernatural donor; we must build in a few
days what would ordinarily take us years; we must renounce organic
habits, and fundamentally alter our methods of labour. It is certain
that all the attention man could devote would not be excessive for
the solution of the problems that would arise, or for the turning to
fullest account the help thus offered by a magnificent providence.
Yet that is, more or less, what the bees are doing in our modern

     *As we are now concerned with the construction of the bee,
     we may note, in passing, a strange peculiarity of the Apis
     Florea. Certain walls of its cells for males are cylindrical
     instead of hexagonal. Apparently she has not yet succeeded
     in passing from one form to the other, and indefinitely
     adopting the better.


I have said that even the policy of the bees is probably subject to
change. This point is the obscurest of all, and the most difficult
to verify. I shall not dwell on their various methods of treating
the queens, or the laws as to swarming that are peculiar to the
inhabitants of every hive, and apparently transmitted from
generation to generation, etc.; but by the side of these facts which
are not sufficiently established are others so precise and unvarying
as to prove that the same degree of political civilisation has not
been attained by all races of the domestic bee, and that, among some
of them, the public spirit still is groping its way, seeking perhaps
another solution of the royal problem. The Syrian bee, for instance,
habitually rears 120 queens and often more, whereas our Apis
Mellifica will rear ten or twelve at most. Cheshire tells of a
Syrian hive, in no way abnormal, where 120 dead queen-mothers were
found, and 90 living, unmolested queens. This may be the point of
departure, or the point of arrival, of a strange social evolution,
which it would be interesting to study more thoroughly. We may add
that as far as the rearing of queens is concerned, the Cyprian bee
approximates to the Syrian. And finally, there is yet another fact
which establishes still more clearly that the customs and prudent
organisation of the hive are not the results of a primitive impulse,
mechanically followed through different ages and climates, but that
the spirit which governs the little republic is fully as capable of
taking note of new conditions and turning these to the best
advantage, as in times long past it was capable of meeting the
dangers that hemmed it around. Transport our black bee to California
or Australia, and her habits will completely alter. Finding that
summer is perpetual and flowers forever abundant, she will after one
or two years be content to live from day to day, and gather
sufficient honey and pollen for the day's consumption; and, her
thoughtful observation of these new features triumphing over
hereditary experience, she will cease to make provision for the
winter.* In fact it becomes necessary, in order to stimulate her
activity, to deprive her systematically of the fruits of her labour.

     *Buchner cites an analogous fact. In the Barbadoes, the bees
     whose hives are in the midst of the refineries, where they
     find sugar in abundance during the whole year, will entirely
     abandon their visits to the flowers.


So much for what our own eyes can see. It will be admitted that we
have mentioned some curious facts, which by no means support the
theory that every intelligence is arrested, every future clearly
defined, save only the intelligence and future of man.

But if we choose to accept for one moment the hypothesis of
evolution, the spectacle widens, and its uncertain, grandiose light
soon attains our own destinies. Whoever brings careful attention to
bear will scarcely deny, even though it be not evident, the presence
in nature of a will that tends to raise a portion of matter to a
subtler and perhaps better condition, and to penetrate its substance
little by little with a mystery-laden fluid that we at first term
life, then instinct, and finally intelligence; a will that, for an
end we know not, organises, strengthens, and facilitates the
existence of all that is. There can be no certainty, and yet many
instances invite us to believe that, were an actual estimate
possible, the quantity of matter that has raised itself from its
beginnings would be found to be ever increasing. A fragile remark, I
admit, but the only one we can make on the hidden force that leads
us; and it stands for much in a world where confidence in life,
until certitude to the contrary reach us, must remain the first of
all our duties, at times even when life itself conveys no
encouraging clearness to us.

I know all that may be urged against the theory of evolution. In its
favour are numerous proofs and most powerful arguments, which yet do
not carry irresistible conviction. We must beware of abandoning
ourselves unreservedly to the prevailing truths of our time. A
hundred years hence, many chapters of a book instinct to-day with
this truth, will appear as ancient as the philosophical writings of
the eighteenth century seem to us now, full as they are of a too
perfect and non-existing man, or as so many works of the seventeenth
century, whose value is lessened by their conception of a harsh and
narrow god.

Nevertheless, when it is impossible to know what the truth of a
thing may be, it is well to accept the hypothesis that appeals the
most urgently to the reason of men at the period when we happen to
have come into the world. The chances are that it will be false; but
so long as we believe it to be true it will serve a useful purpose
by restoring our courage and stimulating research in a new
direction. It might at the first glance seem wiser, perhaps, instead
of advancing these ingenious suppositions, simply to say the
profound truth, which is that we do not know. But this truth could
only be helpful were it written that we never shall know. In the
meanwhile it would induce a state of stagnation within us more
pernicious than the most vexatious illusions. We are so constituted
that nothing takes us further or leads us higher than the leaps made
by our errors. In point of fact we owe the little we have learned to
hypotheses that were always hazardous and often absurd, and, as a
general rule, less discreet than they are to-day. They were unwise,
perhaps, but they kept alive the ardour for research. To the
traveller, shivering with cold, who reaches the human Hostelry, it
matters little whether he by whose side he seats himself, he who has
guarded the hearth, be blind or very old. So long as the fire still
burn that he has been watching, he has done as much as the best
could have done. Well for us if we can transmit this ardour, not as
we received it, but added to by ourselves; and nothing will add to
it more than this hypothesis of evolution, which goads us to
question with an ever severer method and ever increasing zeal all
that exists on the earth's surface and in its entrails, in the
depths of the sea and expanse of the sky. Reject it, and what can we
set up against it, what can we put in its place? There is but the
grand confession of scientific ignorance, aware of its knowing
nothing--but this is habitually sluggish, and calculated to
discourage the curiosity more needful to man than wisdom--or the
hypothesis of the fixity of the species and of divine creation,
which is less demonstrable than the other, banishes for all time
the living elements of the problem, and explains nothing.


Of wild bees approximately 4500 varieties are known. It need
scarcely be said that we shall not go through the list. Some day,
perhaps, a profound study, and searching experiments and
observations of a kind hitherto unknown, that would demand more than
one lifetime, will throw a decisive light upon the history of the
bee's evolution. All that we can do now is to enter this veiled
region of supposition, and, discarding all positive statement,
attempt to follow a tribe of hymenoptera in their progress towards a
more intelligent existence, towards a little more security and
comfort, lightly indicating the salient features of this ascension
that is spread over many thousands of years. The tribe in question
is already known to us; it is that of the "Apiens," whose essential
characteristics are so distinct and well-marked that one is inclined
to credit all its members with one common ancestor.*

     *It is important that the terms we shall successively
     employ, adopting the classification of M. Emile Blanchard,--
     "APIENS, APIDAE and APITAE,--should not be confounded. The
     tribe of the Apiens comprises all families of bees. The
     Apidae constitute the first of these families, and are
     subdivided into three groups: the Meliponae, the Apitae, and
     the Bombi (humble-bees). And, finally, the Apitae include
     all the different varieties of our domestic bees.

The disciples of Darwin, Hermann Muller among others, consider a
little wild bee, the Prosopis, which is to be found all over the
universe, as the actual representative of the primitive bee whence
all have issued that are known to us to-day.

The unfortunate Prosopis stands more or less in the same relation to
the inhabitants of our hives as the cave-dwellers to the fortunate
who live in our great cities. You will probably more than once have
seen her fluttering about the bushes, in a deserted corner of your
garden, without realising that you were carelessly watching the
venerable ancestor to whom we probably owe most of our flowers and
fruits (for it is actually estimated that more than a hundred
thousand varieties of plants would disappear if the bees did not
visit them) and possibly even our civilisation, for in these
mysteries all things intertwine. She is nimble and attractive, the
variety most common in France being elegantly marked with white on a
black background. But this elegance hides an inconceivable poverty.
She leads a life of starvation. She is almost naked, whereas her
sisters are dad in a warm and sumptuous fleece. She has not, like
the Apidae, baskets to gather the pollen, nor, in their default, the
tuft of the Andrenae, nor the ventral brush of the Gastrilegidae.
Her tiny claws must laboriously gather the powder from the calices,
which powder she needs must swallow in order to take it back to her
lair. She has no implements other than her tongue, her mouth and her
claws; but her tongue is too short, her legs are feeble, and her
mandibles without strength. Unable to produce wax, bore holes
through wood, or dig in the earth, she contrives clumsy galleries in
the tender pith of dry berries; erects a few awkward cells, stores
these with a little food for the offspring she never will see; and
then, having accomplished this poor task of hers, that tends she
knows not whither and of whose aim we are no less ignorant, she goes
off and dies in a corner, as solitarily as she had lived.

We shall pass over many intermediary species, wherein we may see the
gradual lengthening of the tongue, enabling more nectar to be
extracted from the cups of corollas, and the dawning formation
and subsequent development of the apparatus for collecting
pollen,--hairs, tufts, brushes on the tibia, on the tarsus, and
abdomen,--as also claws and mandibles becoming stronger, useful
secretions being formed, and the genius that presides over the
construction of dwellings seeking and finding extraordinary
improvement in every direction. Such a study would need a whole
volume. I will merely outline a chapter of it, less than a chapter,
a page, which shall show how the hesitating endeavours of the will
to live and be happier result in the birth, development, and
affirmation of social intelligence.

We have seen the unfortunate Prosopis silently bearing her solitary
little destiny in the midst of this vast universe charged with
terrible forces. A certain number of her sisters, belonging to
species already more skilful and better supplied with utensils, such
as the well-clad Colletes, or the marvellous cutter of rose-leaves,
the Megachile Centuncularis, live in an isolation no less profound;
and if by chance some creature attach itself to them, and share
their dwelling, it will either be an enemy, or, more often, a

For the world of bees is peopled with phantoms stranger than our
own; and many a species will thus have a kind of mysterious and
inactive double, exactly similar to the victim it has selected, save
only that its immemorial idleness has caused it to lose one by one
its implements of labour, and that it exists solely at the expense
of the working type of its race.*

     *The humble-bees, for instance, have the Psithyri as
     parasites, while the Stelites live on the Anthidia. "As
     regards the frequent identity of the parasite with its
     victim," M. J. Perez very justly remarks in his book "The
     Bees," "one must necessarily admit that the two genera are
     only different forms of the same type, and are united to
     each other by the closest affinity. And to naturalists who
     believe in the theory of evolution this relationship is not
     purely ideal, but real. The parasitic genus must be regarded
     as merely a branch of the foraging genus, having lost its
     foraging organs because of its adaptation to parasitic

Among the bees, however, which are somewhat too arbitrarily termed
the "solitary Apidae," the social instinct already is smouldering,
like a flame crushed beneath the overwhelming weight of matter that
stifles all primitive life. And here and there, in unexpected
directions, as though reconnoitring, with timid and sometimes
fantastic outbursts, it will succeed in piercing the mass that
oppresses it, the pyre that some day shall feed its triumph.

If in this world all things be matter, this is surely its most
immaterial movement. Transition is called for from a precarious,
egotistic and incomplete life to a life that shall be fraternal, a
little more certain, a little more happy. The spirit must ideally
unite that which in the body is actually separate; the individual
must sacrifice himself for the race, and substitute for visible
things the things that cannot be seen. Need we wonder that the bees
do not at the first glance realise what we have not yet
disentangled, we who find ourselves at the privileged spot whence
instinct radiates from all sides into our consciousness? And it is
curious too, almost touching, to see how the new idea gropes its
way, at first, in the darkness that enfolds all things that come to
life on this earth. It emerges from matter, it is still quite
material. It is cold, hunger, fear, transformed into something that
as yet has no shape. It crawls vaguely around great dangers, around
the long nights, the approach of winter, of an equivocal sleep which
almost is death....


The Xylocopae are powerful bees which worm their nest in dry wood.
Their life is solitary always. Towards the end of summer, however,
some individuals of a particular species, the Xylocopa Cyanescens,
may be found huddled together in a shivering group, on a stalk of
asphodel, to spend the winter in common. Among the Xylocopae this
tardy fraternity is exceptional, but among the Ceratinae, which are
of their nearest kindred, it has become a constant habit. The idea
is germinating. It halts immediately; and hitherto has not
succeeded, among the Xylocopae, in passing beyond this first obscure
line of love.

Among other Apiens, this groping idea assumes other forms. The
Chalicodomae of the out-houses, which are building-bees, the
Dasypodae and Halicti, which dig holes in the earth, unite in large
colonies to construct their nests. But it is an illusory crowd
composed of solitary units, that possess no mutual understanding,
and do not act in common. Each one is profoundly isolated in the
midst of the multitude, and builds a dwelling for itself alone,
heedless of its neighbour. "They are," M. Perez remarks, "a mere
congregation of individuals, brought together by similar tastes and
habits, but observing scrupulously the maxim of each one for itself;
in fact, a mere mob of workers, resembling the swarm of a hive only
as regards their number and zeal. Such assemblies merely result from
a great number of individuals inhabiting the same locality."

But when we come to the Panurgi, which are cousins of the Dasypodae,
a little ray of light suddenly reveals the birth of a new sentiment
in this fortuitous crowd. They collect in the same way as the
others, and each one digs its own subterranean chambers; but the
entrance is common to all, as also the gallery which leads from the
surface of the ground to the different cells. "And thus," M. Perez
adds, "as far as the work of the cells is concerned, each bee acts
as though she were alone; but all make equal use of the gallery that
conducts to the cells, so that the multitude profit by the labours
of an individual, and are spared the time and trouble required for
the construction of separate galleries. It would be interesting to
discover whether this preliminary work be not executed in common, by
relays of females, relieving each other in turn."

However this may be, the fraternal idea has pierced the wall that
divided two worlds. It is no longer wild and unrecognisable, wrested
from instinct by cold and hunger, or by the fear of death; it is
prompted by active life. But it halts once more; and in this
instance arrives no further. No matter, it does not lose courage; it
will seek other channels. It enters the humble-bee, and, maturing
there, becomes embodied in a different atmosphere, and works its
first decisive miracles.

The humble-bees, the great hairy, noisy creatures that all of us
know so well, so harmless for all their apparent fierceness, lead a
solitary life at first. At the beginning of March the impregnated
female who has survived the winter starts to construct her nest,
either underground or in a bush, according to the species to which
she belongs. She is alone in the world, in the midst of awakening
spring. She chooses a spot, clears it, digs it and carpets it. Then
she erects her somewhat shapeless waxen cells, stores these with
honey and pollen, lays and hatches the eggs, tends and nourishes the
larvae that spring to life, and soon is surrounded by a troop of
daughters who aid her in all her labours, within the nest and
without, while some of them soon begin to lay in their turn. The
construction of the cells improves; the colony grows, the comfort
increases. The foundress is still its soul, its principal mother,
and finds herself now at the head of a kingdom which might be the
model of that of our honeybee. But the model is still in the rough.

The prosperity of the humble-bees never exceeds a certain limit,
their laws are ill-defined and ill-obeyed, primitive cannibalism and
infanticide reappear at intervals, the architecture is shapeless and
entails much waste of material; but the cardinal difference between
the two cities is that the one is permanent, and the other
ephemeral. For, indeed, that of the humble-bee will perish in the
autumn; its three or four hundred inhabitants will die, leaving no
trace of their passage or their endeavours; and but a single female
will survive, who, the next spring, in the same solitude and poverty
as her mother before her, will recommence the same useless work. The
idea, however, has now grown aware of its strength. Among the
humble-bees it goes no further than we have stated, but, faithful to
its habits and pursuing its usual routine, it will immediately
undergo a sort of unwearying metempsychosis, and re-incarnate
itself, trembling with its last triumph, rendered all-powerful now
and nearly perfect, in another group, the last but one of the race,
that which immediately precedes our domestic bee wherein it attains
its crown; the group of the Meliponitae, which comprises the
tropical Meliponae and Trigonae.


Here the organisation is as complete as in our hives. There is an
unique mother, there are sterile workers and males. Certain details
even seem better devised. The males, for instance, are not wholly
idle; they secrete wax. The entrance to the hive is more carefully
guarded; it has a door that can be closed when nights are cold, and
when these are warm a kind of curtain will admit the air.

But the republic is less strong, general life less assured,
prosperity more limited, than with our bees; and wherever these are
introduced, the Meliponitae tend to disappear before them. In both
races the fraternal idea has undergone equal and magnificent
development, save in one point alone, wherein it achieves no further
advance among the Meliponitae than among the limited offspring of
the humble-bees. In the mechanical organisation of distributed
labour, in the precise economy of effort; briefly, in the
architecture of the city, they display manifest inferiority. As to
this I need only refer to what I said in section 42 of this book,
while adding that, whereas in the hives of our Apitae all the cells
are equally available for the rearing of the brood and the storage
of provisions, and endure as long as the city itself, they serve
only one of these purposes among the Meliponitae, and the cells
employed as cradles for the nymphs are destroyed after these have
been hatched.*

     *It is not certain that the principle of unique royalty, or
     maternity, is strictly observed among the Meliponitae.
     Blanchard remarks very justly, that as they possess no sting
     and are consequently less readily able than the mothers of
     our own bees to kill each other, several queens will
     probably live together in the same hive. But certainty on
     this point has hitherto been unattainable owing to the great
     resemblance that exists between queens and workers, as also
     to the impossibility of rearing the Meliponitae in our

It is in our domestic bees, therefore, that the idea, of whose
movements we have given a cursory and incomplete picture, attains
its most perfect form. Are these movements definitely, and for all
time, arrested in each one of these species, and does the
connecting-line exist in our imagination alone? Let us not be too
eager to establish a system in this ill-explored region. Let our
conclusions be only provisional, and preferentially such as convey
the utmost hope, for, were a choice forced upon us, occasional
gleams would appear to declare that the inferences we are most
desirous to draw will prove to be truest. Besides, let us not forget
that our ignorance still is profound. We are only learning to open
our eyes. A thousand experiments that could be made have as yet not
even been tried. If the Prosopes, for instance, were imprisoned, and
forced to cohabit with their kind, would they, in course of time,
overstep the iron barrier of total solitude, and be satisfied to
live the common life of the Dasypodae, or to put forth the fraternal
effort of the Panurgi? And if we imposed abnormal conditions upon
the Panurgi, would these, in their turn, progress from a general
corridor to general cells? If the mothers of the humble-bees were
compelled to hibernate together, would they arrive at a mutual
understanding, a mutual division of labour? Have combs of
foundation-wax been offered to the Meliponitae? Would they accept
them, would they make use of them, would they conform their habits
to this unwonted architecture? Questions, these, that we put to Very
tiny creatures; and yet they contain the great word of our greatest
secrets. We cannot answer them, for our experience dates but from
yesterday. Starting with Reaumur, about a hundred and fifty years
have elapsed since the habits of wild bees first received attention.
Reaumur was acquainted with only a few of them; we have since then
observed a few more; but hundreds, thousands perhaps, have hitherto
been noticed only by hasty and ignorant travellers. The habits of
those that are known to us have undergone no change since the author
of the "Memoirs" published his valuable work; and the humble-bees,
all powdered with gold, and vibrant as the sun's delectable murmur,
that in the year 1730 gorged themselves with honey in the gardens of
Charenton, were absolutely identical with those that to-morrow, when
April returns, will be humming in the woods of Vincennes, but a few
yards away. From Reaumur's day to our own, however, is but as the
twinkling of an eye; and many lives of men, placed end to end, form
but a second in the history of Nature's thought.


Although the idea that our eyes have followed attains its supreme
expression in our domestic bees, it must not be inferred therefrom
that the hive reveals no faults. There is one masterpiece, the
hexagonal cell, that touches absolute perfection,--a perfection that
all the geniuses in the world, were they to meet in conclave, could
in no way enhance. No living creature, not even man, has achieved,
in the centre of his sphere, what the bee has achieved in her own;
and were some one from another world to descend and ask of the earth
the most perfect creation of the logic of life, we should needs have
to offer the humble comb of honey.

But the level of this perfection is not maintained throughout. We
have already dealt with a few faults and shortcomings, evident
sometimes and sometimes mysterious, such as the ruinous
superabundance and idleness of the males, parthenogenesis, the
perils of the nuptial flight, excessive swarming, the absence of
pity, and the almost monstrous sacrifice of the individual to
society. To these must be added a strange inclination to store
enormous masses of pollen, far in excess of their needs; for the
pollen, soon turning rancid, and hardening, encumbers the surface of
the comb; and further, the long sterile interregnum between the date
of the first swarm and the impregnation of the second queen, etc.,

Of these faults the gravest, the only one which in our climates is
invariably fatal, is the repeated swarming. But here we must bear in
mind that the natural selection of the domestic bee has for
thousands of years been thwarted by man. From the Egyptian of the
time of Pharaoh to the peasant of our own day, the bee-keeper has
always acted in opposition to the desires and advantages of the
race. The most prosperous hives are those which throw only one swarm
after the beginning of summer. They have fulfilled their maternal
duties, assured the maintenance of the stock and the necessary
renewal of queens; they have guaranteed the future of the swarm,
which, being precocious and ample in numbers, has time to erect
solid and well-stored dwellings before the arrival of autumn. If
left to themselves, it is clear that these hives and their offshoots
would have been the only ones to survive the rigours of winter,
which would almost invariably have destroyed colonies animated by
different instincts; and the law of restricted swarming would
therefore by slow degrees have established itself in our northern
races. But it is precisely these prudent, opulent, acclimatised
hives that man has always destroyed in order to possess himself of
their treasure. He has permitted only--he does so to this day in
ordinary practice--the feeblest colonies to survive; degenerate
stock, secondary or tertiary swarms, which have just barely
sufficient food to subsist through the winter, or whose miserable
store he will supplement perhaps with a few droppings of honey. The
result is, probably, that the race has grown feebler, that the
tendency to excessive swarming has been hereditarily developed, and
that to-day almost all our bees, particularly the black ones, swarm
too often. For some years now the new methods of "movable"
apiculture have gone some way towards correcting this dangerous
habit; and when we reflect how rapidly artificial selection acts on
most of our domestic animals, such as oxen, dogs, pigeons, sheep and
horses, it is permissible to believe that we shall before long have
a race of bees that will entirely renounce natural swarming and
devote all their activity to the collection of honey and pollen.


But for the other faults: might not an intelligence that possessed a
clearer consciousness of the aim of common life emancipate itself
from them? Much might be said concerning these faults, which emanate
now from what is unknown to us in the hive, now from swarming and
its resultant errors, for which we are partly to blame. But let
every man judge for himself, and, having seen what has gone before,
let him grant or deny intelligence to the bees, as he may think
proper. I am not eager to defend them. It seems to me that in many
circumstances they give proof of understanding, but my curiosity
would not be less were all that they do done blindly. It is
interesting to watch a brain possessed of extraordinary resources
within itself wherewith it may combat cold and hunger, death, time,
space, and solitude, all the enemies of matter that is springing to
life; but should a creature succeed in maintaining its little
profound and complicated existence without overstepping the
boundaries of instinct, without doing anything but what is ordinary,
that would be very interesting too, and very extraordinary. Restore
the ordinary and the marvellous to their veritable place in the
bosom of nature, and their values shift; one equals the other. We
find that their names are usurped; and that it is not they, but the
things we cannot understand or explain that should arrest our
attention, refresh our activity, and give a new and juster form to
our thoughts and feelings and words. There is wisdom in attaching
oneself to nought beside.


And further, our intellect is not the proper tribunal before which
to summon the bees, and pass their faults in review. Do we not find,
among ourselves, that consciousness and intellect long will dwell in
the midst of errors and faults without perceiving them, longer still
without effecting a remedy? If a being exist whom his destiny calls
upon most specially, almost organically, to live and to organise
common life in accordance with pure reason, that being is man. And
yet see what he makes of it, compare the mistakes of the hive with
those of our own society. How should we marvel, for instance, were
we bees observing men, as we noted the unjust, illogical
distribution of work among a race of creatures that in other
directions appear to manifest eminent reason! We should find the
earth's surface, unique source of all common life, insufficiently,
painfully cultivated by two or three tenths of the whole population;
we should find another tenth absolutely idle, usurping the larger
share of the products of this first labour; and the remaining
seven-tenths condemned to a life of perpetual half-hunger,
ceaselessly exhausting themselves in strange and sterile efforts
whereby they never shall profit, but only shall render more complex
and more inexplicable still the life of the idle. We should conclude
that the reason and moral sense of these beings must belong to a
world entirely different from our own, and that they must obey
principles hopelessly beyond our comprehension. But let us carry
this review of our faults no further. They are always present in our
thoughts, though their presence achieves but little. From century to
century only will one of them for a moment shake off its slumber,
and send forth a bewildered cry; stretch the aching arm that
supported its head, shift its position, and then lie down and fall
asleep once more, until a new pain, born of the dreary fatigue of
repose, awaken it afresh.


The evolution of the Apiens, or at least of the Apitae, being
admitted, or regarded as more probable than that they should have
remained stationary, let us now consider the general, constant
direction that this evolution takes. It seems to follow the same
roads as with ourselves. It tends palpably to lessen the struggle,
insecurity, and wretchedness of the race, to augment authority and
comfort, and stimulate favourable chances. To this end it will
unhesitatingly sacrifice the individual, bestowing general strength
and happiness in exchange for the illusory and mournful independence
of solitude. It is as though Nature were of the opinion with which
Thucydides credits Pericles: viz., that individuals are happier in
the bosom of a prosperous city, even though they suffer themselves,
than when individually prospering in the midst of a languishing
state. It protects the hardworking slave in the powerful city, while
those who have no duties, whose association is only precarious, are
abandoned to the nameless, formless enemies who dwell in the minutes
of time, in the movements of the universe, and in the recesses of
space. This is not the moment to discuss the scheme of nature, or to
ask ourselves whether it would be well for man to follow it; but it
is certain that wherever the infinite mass allows us to seize the
appearance of an idea, the appearance takes this road whereof we
know not the end. Let it be enough that we note the persistent care
with which nature preserves, and fixes in the evolving race, all
that has been won from the hostile inertia of matter. She records
each happy effort, and contrives we know not what special and
benevolent laws to counteract the inevitable recoil. This progress,
whose existence among the most intelligent species can scarcely be
denied, has perhaps no aim beyond its initial impetus, and knows not
whither it goes. But at least, in a world where nothing save a few
facts of this kind indicates a precise will, it is significant
enough that we should see certain creatures rising thus, slowly and
continuously; and should the bees have revealed to us only this
mysterious spiral of light in the overpowering darkness, that were
enough to induce us not to regret the time we have given to their
little gestures and humble habits, which seem so far away and are
yet so nearly akin to our grand passions and arrogant destinies.


It may be that these things are all vain; and that our own spiral of
light, no less than that of the bees, has been kindled for no other
purpose save that of amusing the darkness. So, too, is it possible
that some stupendous incident may suddenly surge from without, from
another world, from a new phenomenon, and either inform this effort
with definitive meaning, or definitively destroy it. But we must
proceed on our way as though nothing abnormal could ever befall us.
Did we know that to-morrow some revelation, a message, for instance,
from a more ancient, more luminous planet than ours, were to root up
our nature, to suppress the laws, the passions, and radical truths
of our being, our wisest plan still would be to devote the whole of
to-day to the study of these passions, these laws, and these truths,
which must blend and accord in our mind; and to remain faithful to
the destiny imposed on us, which is to subdue, and to some extent
raise within and around us the obscure forces of life.

None of these, perhaps, will survive the new revelation; but the
soul of those who shall up to the end have fulfilled the mission
that is pre-eminently the mission of man, must inevitably be in the
front rank of all to welcome this revelation; and should they learn
therefrom that indifference, or resignation to the unknown, is the
veritable duty, they will be better equipped than the others for the
comprehension of this final resignation and indifference, better
able to turn these to account.


But such speculations may well be avoided. Let not the possibility
of general annihilation blur our perception of the task before us;
above all, let us not count on the miraculous aid of chance.
Hitherto, the promises of our imagination notwithstanding, we have
always been left to ourselves, to our own resources. It is to our
humblest efforts that every useful, enduring achievement of this
earth is due. It is open to us, if we choose, to await the better or
worse that may follow some alien accident, but on condition that
such expectation shall not hinder our human task. Here again do the
bees, as Nature always, provide a most excellent lesson. In the hive
there has truly been prodigious intervention. The bees are in the
hands of a power capable of annihilating or modifying their race, of
transforming their destinies; the bees' thraldom is far more
definite than our own. Therefore none the less do they perform their
profound and primitive duty. And, among them, it is precisely those
whose obedience to duty is most complete who are able most fully to
profit by the supernatural intervention that to-day has raised the
destiny of their species. And indeed, to discover the unconquerable
duty of a being is less difficult than one imagines. It is ever to
be read in the distinguishing organs, whereto the others are all
subordinate. And just as it is written in the tongue, the stomach,
and mouth of the bee that it must make honey, so is it written in
our eyes, our ears, our nerves, our marrow, in every lobe of our
head, that we must make cerebral substance; nor is there need that
we should divine the purpose this substance shall serve. The bees
know not whether they will eat the honey they harvest, as we know
not who it is shall reap the profit of the cerebral substance we
shall have formed, or of the intelligent fluid that issues therefrom
and spreads over the universe, perishing when our life ceases or
persisting after our death. As they go from flower to flower
collecting more honey than themselves and their offspring can
need, let us go from reality to reality seeking food for the
incomprehensible flame, and thus, certain of having fulfilled our
organic duty, preparing ourselves for whatever befall. Let us
nourish this flame on our feelings and passions, on all that we see
and think, that we hear and touch, on its own essence, which is the
idea it derives from the discoveries, experience and observation
that result from its every movement. A time then will come when all
things will turn so naturally to good in a spirit that has given
itself to the loyal desire of this simple human duty, that the very
suspicion of the possible aimlessness of its exhausting effort will
only render the duty the clearer, will only add more purity, power,
disinterestedness, and freedom to the ardour wherewith it still


TO give a complete bibliography of the bee were outside the scope of
this book; we shall be satisfied, therefore, merely to indicate the
more interesting works:--

1. The Historical Development of Apiarian Science:

(a) The ancient writers: Aristotle, "History of Animals" (Trans.
Bart. St. Hilaire); T. Varro, "De Agricultura," L. III. xvi.; Pliny,
"Hist. Nat.," L. xi.; Columella, "De Re Rustica;" "Palladius, "De Re
Rustica," L. I. xxxvii., etc.

(b) The moderns: Swammerdam, "Biblia Naturae," 1737; Maraldi,
"Observations sur les Abeilles," 1712; Reaumur, "Memoires pour
servir a l'Histoire des Insectes," 1740; Ch. Bonnet, "OEuvres
d'Histoire Naturelle," 1779-1783; A. G. Schirach, "Physikalische
Untersuchung der bisher unbekannten aber nachher entdeckten
Erzeugung der Bienen-mutter," 1767; J. Hunter, "On Bees"
(Philosophical Transactions, 1732); J. A. Janscha, "Hinterlassene
Vollstandige Lehre von der Bienenzucht," 1773; Francois Huber,
"Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles," 1794, etc.

2. Practical Apiculture:

Dzierzon, "Theorie und Praxis des neuen Bienenfreundes;" Langstroth,
"The Honeybee"(translated into French by Ch. Dadant: "L'Abeille et
la Ruche," which corrects and completes the original); Georges de
Layens and Bonnier, "Cours Complet d'Apiculture;" Frank Cheshire,
"Bees and Bee-keeping" (vol. ii.--Practical); Dr. E. Bevan, "The
Honey-bee;" T. W. Cowan, "The British Bee-keeper's Guidebook;" A.
Root, "The A B C of Bee-Culture;" Henry Alien, "The Bee-keeper's
Handy-book;" L'Abbe Collin, "Guide du Proprietaire des Abeilles;"
Ch. Dadant, "Petit Cours d'Apiculture Pratique;" Ed. Bertrand,
"Conduite du Rucher;" Weber, "Manuel pratique d'Apiulture;" Hamet,
"Cours Complet d'Api-culture;" De Bauvoys, "Guide de l'Apiculteur;"
Pollmann, "Die Biene und ihre Zucht;" Jeker, Kramer, and Theiler,
"Der Schweizerische Bienenvater;" S. Simmins, "A Modern Bee Farm;"
F. W. Vogel, "Die Honigbiene und die Vermehrung der Bienvolker;"
Baron A. Von Berlepsch, "Die Biene und ihre Frucht," etc.

3. General Monographs:

F. Cheshire, "Bees and Bee-keeping" (vol. i.--Scientific); T. W.
Cowan, "The Honey-bee;" J. Perez, "Les Abeilles;" Girard, "Manuel
d'Apiculture" (Les Abeilles, Organes et Fonctions); Schuckard,
"British Bees;" Kirby and Spence, "Introduction to Entomology;"
Girdwoyn, "Anatomie et Physiologic de l'Abeille;" F. Cheshire,
"Diagrams on the Anatomy of the Honeybee;" Gunderach, "Die
Naturgeschichte der Honigbiene;" L. Buchner, "Geistes-leben der
Thiere;" O. Butschli, "Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Biene;" J. D.
Haviland, "The Social Instincts of Bees, their Origin and Natural

4. Special Monographs (Organs, Functions, Undertakings, etc.):

F. Dujardin, "Memoires sur le Systeme nerveux des Insectes;" Dumas
and Milne Edwards, "Sur la Production de la Cire des Abeilles;" E.
Blanchard, "Recherches anatomiques sur le Systeme nerveux des
Insectes;" L. R. D. Brougham, "Observations, Demonstrations, and
Experiences upon the Structure of the Cells of Bees;" P. Cameron,
"On Parthenogenesis in the Hymenoptera" (Transactions Natural
Society of Glasgow, 1888); Erichson, "De Fabrica et Usu Antennarum
in Insectis;" B. T. Lowne, "On the Simple and Compound Eyes of
Insects "(Philosophical Transactions, 1879); G. K. Waterhouse, "On
the Formation of the Cells of Bees and Wasps;" Dr. C. T. E. von
Siebold, "On a True Parthenogenesis in Moths and Bees;" F. Leydig,
"Das Auge der Gliederthiere;" Pastor Schonfeld, "Bienen-Zeitung,"
1854--1883; "Illustrierte Bienen-Zeitung," 1885-1890; Assmuss, "Die
Parasiten der Honig-biene."

5. Notes on Melliferous Hymenoptera:

E. Blanchard, "Metamorphoses, Moeurs et Instincts des Insectes;"
Vid: "Histoire des Insectes;" Darwin, "Origin of Species;" Fabre,
"Souvenirs Entomologiques" (3d series); Romanes, "Mental Evolution
in Animals;" id., "Animal Intelligence;" Lepeletier et Fargeau,
"Histoire Naturelle des Hymenopteres;" V. Mayet, "Memoire sur les
Moeurs et sur les Metamorphoses d'une Nouvelle Espece de la Famille
des Vesicants" (Ann. Soc. Entom. de France, 1875); H. Muller, "Ein
Beitrag zur Lebensgeschichte der Dasypoda Hirtipes;" E. Hoffer,
"Biologische Beobachtungen an Hummeln und Schmarotzerhummeln;"
Jesse, "Gleanings in Natural History;" Sir John Lubbock, "Ants,
Bees, and Wasps;" id., "The Senses, Instincts, and Intelligence of
Animals;" Walkenaer, "Les Haclites;" Westwood, "Introduction to the
Study of Insects;" V. Rendu, "De l'Intelligence des Betes;" Espinas,
"Animal Communities," etc.

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